Lessons in Leadership: Integrating Courage, Vision, and Innovation for the Future of Sustainable Fisheries

All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten from Mentoring

Hanna Kruckman and Jessica Mistak

doi: https://doi.org/10.47886/9781934874608.ch59

Leadership can take many forms, but the common denominator that unites all leadership styles is people. Brené Brown (2012) defines a leader as “anyone who takes responsibility for finding the potential in people and processes and has the courage to develop that potential.” We can think of no better harnesser of human potential than a mentor. While leadership courses introduce you to tools and techniques needed to be an effective leader and provide invaluable training, we have found that the most profound lessons on how to be a leader—a really thoughtful leader, a leader who holds him or herself accountable—come from mentoring relationships.

The two of us began our mentor–mentee relationship in 2011 when Hanna was selected for the Janice Lee Fenske Fellowship in Fisheries at Michigan State University. The fellowship required collaboration with mentors to complete a project that addressed a current fisheries issue. Jess, a long-standing member of the Fenske Fellowship Committee and a fisheries biologist with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, was looking for an opportunity to mentor a student when Hanna came along. Our mentoring relationship has continued and significantly evolved since then. Now, instead of standard mentor and mentee roles, our relationship is peer-to-peer and either of us takes on the role of mentor or mentee depending on the subject matter and circumstances. At one point, we had a formal relationship with an outside mentor, placing us both in the mentee role. Mentoring is adaptable, and you may often find relationships evolving to mirror developments in your personal and professional life.

Mentoring relationships can range from informal to formal and can last for a few weeks to a lifetime. Before starting a mentorship, establish expectations. For example, are you looking for mentorship or sponsorship? According to the American Fisheries Society’s “Guide to Mentoring,” “a mentor is someone who takes a special interest in helping another person develop into a successful professional” (AFS, no date) Sponsorship, “is advocacy by someone highly placed in the organization who can help open the door for career advancement” (Foust-Cummings et al. 2011). These terms may sound similar but, if not clarified, they can offset the trajectory of your relationship and hinder its progress.