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By Bob Borson, FAIA February 3, 2020

Finding the right sort of person who can help guide you through the various stages of your career can be incredibly valuable and beneficial. Today, Andrew and I are talking about mentorship and what that means, what can make it great, why it doesn’t necessarily work, what you can do so that you might actually benefit from the experience, and what sort of relationship can make a mentor a great fit for you. That’s a fairly tall order of things to accomplish but we are going to give it a go.

Mentorship is intended to be a mutually beneficial arrangement between two interested individuals, but it can really only be instigated by the younger party. I often hear that the entire Life of an Architect site is a form of mentorship … sort of a “mentorship by proxy”, but I couldn’t disagree more. At best, my website is full of unsolicited advice made available to people who are looking for some sort of information or guidance, but without the give-and-take of a meaningful dialog over an extended period of time, it is lacking at its core the real value that mentorship provides.

Mentorship LOA

Mentors are more than advisers, they are interested in your professional development and career advancement.  Mentors are those individuals or research teams who are excited, willing and able to share their experience and expertise.

At the end of 2019, Andrew and I got together to work on a topics list for what we might want to discuss on our 2020 because surprise surprise, these episodes take some planning and preparation. Based on the emails I receive, one of the topics we knew that we would include was on “Mentorship” and we penciled this is as today’s topic for discussion. About a week before we recorded today’s episode, I received an email from Max Underwood, AIA who teaches at Arizona State University, and in his email, he suggested that we have an episode on this very topic. In his effort to be helpful, Max included some information from a University-wide grad-mentoree workshop and Andrew and I ended up using part of this information as the basis for today’s conversation.

Ten Essential qualities that should be sought or cultivated in your mentor are:
1) Enthusiasm for our discipline, field, and profession [20:24 mark]
2) Experience and insight into what works and what does not [20:59 mark]
3) High standards and expectations for oneself [23:30 mark]
4) An open mind with regard both to complex issues such as definitions of success and to the changing nature of our field and its support structures [24:44 mark]
5) Inquisitiveness, to be able to help identify and evaluate underlying assumptions [31:20 mark]

Bob and Andrew

6) Empathetic, the ability to articulate and address sensitive issues is helpful in dealing with the realities and needs of relationships. [32:53 mark]
7) Excellent communicator, the capacity to be both a good questioner and a good listener [35:43 mark]
8) Clear decision maker, to be able to help examine difficult situations and/or choices [41:41 mark]
9) A willingness to expend time and effort to provide relevant mentorship [42:31 mark]
10) An appreciation of diversity in perspective and worldview.  A belief of what individuals can and should be in our discipline, field, and profession regardless of gender or ethnicity. [43:42 mark]

One item that we would have like to have spent more time on is that you should not confuse someone who is giving out advice for someone in the role of mentor. The main distinction between these two is that someone giving advice can simply pop onto the scene, drop some possibly poorly considered advice bomb on you, and then enjoy the luxury of not necessarily being around to pick up the pieces or deal with the consequences. A real mentor is someone who evolves with you, is invested in the outcomes, and is there to mutually evaluate your failures as well as celebrate your successes.

loa hy

Andrew and I have a shared drive online where we have created individual folders that will contain the specific run sheets, topic data, custom graphics, etc. singled out for each individual show. We also have a running “Hypothetical Questions” document where we place possible questions for consideration (this is also where we would place reader suggestions for hypotheticals). Some of these sit in there for a bit and others seem like too much fun to wait their turn for discussion. Today’s question didn’t have to wait long …  [49:20 mark]

"Would you rather reverse one decision you make a day OR stop time for 10 seconds/10 minutes every day?"

** The movie that I was thinking about during our conversation was titled The Girl, The Gold Watch, and Everything … I was 12-years-old when it came out and as bad as this movie appears now, it hit a certain sweet spot for me as a kid. If you would like to “enjoy” a little bit of movie magic, you can see a short teaser clip here. You can actually find the entire movie on youtube if you really want to watch the entire thing (but unless you’re 12-years-old or need to waste 90 minutes in the airport, I don’t really recommend.) 

I am all for people finding a mentor – someone who you can turn to for support and guidance. This person should be in a leadership position in your firm but preferably someone other than your boss. Depending on the size of your firm you might not have that many options but complaining to your boss about things may not be the best idea. Finding a sounding board, someone you can vent, ask questions, get recommendations, etc. is a very good thing. Finding someone in your own office who understands the culture and the personalities in play will be able to help you far more than someone else, but the most important component to the mentorship process is re-evaluation over time. Act and react, course correction when new data is taken into consideration and the possibility of modifying or changing completely your goals and objectives.


Life of an Architect would like to thank Petersen for their gracious support of this episode as well as our media partners, Building Design+Construction. If you would like to learn more about Peterson or any of their products, you can reach them at

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