The Secrets to a Successful Mentorship

Mentorship can be a great way to learn more about the news business from someone with more experience. Ken Strickland, NBC News Washington DC bureau chief, and Jared Blake, MSNBC senior producer, sat down with NBCU Academy to talk about their mentor-mentee relationship and share advice for maintaining an educational professional experience. 

Watch the video above to hear their thoughts. Extra parts of their conversation are included below, with light edits made for clarity.  

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What are the qualities of a good mentee? 

Blake: You have to be open and receptive to hearing feedback, hearing that your point of view isn’t the best point of view. Feel free to share your thoughts, but one chief attribute of a mentee is understanding that you’re not always right. 

Strickland: You need to come as you are, flaws and all. If the relationship is going to work, I have to know where you think your own shortcomings are. If I ask you, “What do you think you need to improve?” And your answer is, “I’m good,” then that’s not really being self-aware, and we’re not going to make any progress. 

What makes for a good mentorship?  

Blake: The point of a mentor is finding somebody you trust, who has been where you are, and can help you navigate through a lot of tough decisions. 

Strickland: One of the things that really worked for us, when we started, it was two or three meetings before we really started talking about work. “Where are you from? OK, where are your folks from? What do your folks do?” As a mentor, it helps me understand what your background is, because that’s so much of who you are. 

Blake: If I know your background, I can get a sense of how you came to that decision, or piece of advice. It helps strengthen the relationship. 

Is a mentorship relationship stronger if there’s shared life experiences?  

Strickland: I’m curious to know if you think that one of the things that’s made our relationship stronger is that we’re both Black men. 

Blake: If someone is trying to get a mentor, I don’t think it matters what race they are. But there was an added benefit to you being a Black man. Not only can we talk about all the professional things that are colorblind, but on top of that, we can talk about some of the Black male stuff. 

Strickland: I don’t think that you should find a mentor with your exact background. But we would be naive if we did not admit there are certain things that only certain people experience in a certain way. It’s not required, but it’s helpful. 

At the end of the day, what matters is that you have a good relationship with someone with experiences that you can benefit from. The thing that matters most is a connection. 

Where can you find a mentor?  

Strickland: NBCUniversal’s Black Employee Network created a program pairing mentors with mentees. That’s a unique circumstance. I don’t know that every company goes out of their way to do that, so that’s a win for us. 

Sometimes mentor-mentee relationships can be organic. There’s a person that you admire, and you can walk up to them and ask them if they want to be a mentor. There’s always somebody in an organization who’s the wise person, who’s been there for a while. 

Blake: I developed a mentorship with a woman. We have no shared life experiences at all, aside from being residents of New York state. We started talking one day as we were eating free pizza, just chatting about nonsense. And she started asking me about myself, and I started asking her about herself. 

Before you know it, we were spending an hour of downtime in our office, just chatting. She said to me, “So I’m your mentor.” And I said, “But don’t I have to ask you? You can’t just tell me that you’re my mentor!”  

But she was, and it came about very organically. Neither of us had any preconceived notion about it, we didn’t think about it beforehand, and it still worked. We’re still friends to this day. 

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