All the Communication Necessary: Gifts of Mentoring Relationships

Still life by Karen Herman featuring pomegranates and pears in pastel
Still life by Karen Herman featuring pomegranates and pears in pastel

In honor of National Mentoring Month, it was my privilege to enjoy lunch yesterday with two of my mentors, Karen and Mike Herman.  Whenever people ask about my connection to Karen and Mike, I tell them they are my Guardian Angels.

Specifically, in 1995, when I was admitted to the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business (now Chicago Booth), with my acceptance letter came another letter inviting me to apply for the Mike and Karen Herman Family Fellowship for Women in Entrepreneurship.  Suffice it to say, I applied and, to my sheer delight and amazement, received the fellowship.

Mind you this was no ordinary type of grant.  Yes, it came with a healthy stipend to significantly help cover the costs associated with business school.  More importantly, however, it came with Karen and Mike who have “adopted” my sister Herman Fellows and myself as if we were their own family.  They keep up with our and our families’ lives, they invite us to reconvene each autumn in Chicago for a one-day reunion, they continue to cheer us on.  I am indebted to these two Angels in more ways than I can articulate and love them with all my heart!

Over lunch, we talked about mentorship.  I asked them both why they mentor and want to share some of their incredible insights…


Mike is an insanely busy, very active guy with a rich history in business.  He has run companies, been an investor, overseen sizable foundations, served as a board member for public, private and not-for-profit boards and been an advisor to many.  Simply put, he doesn’t really need any more obligations on his time.  In fact, the Hermans’ wonderful assistant constantly reminds Mike he doesn’t have time to keep taking on more and more meetings and responsibilities, things to do or people to advise.  He laughs it off and says, “I’m taking the meeting.”  I asked him “Why?”  Here’s what he said:

Talking with young people and other professionals who are trying to build their careers helps me to keep my mind sharp.  It gives me an opportunity to think back over my own history and experience set and recall lessons learned that I can impart to others.  I get a sense of personal fulfillment from sharing my own stories that I could not achieve any other way.


Karen is one of the warmest, smartest, kindest souls I’ve ever known.  In addition to a deep and highly successful background in research, consulting and philanthropy, Karen is an artist.  It is in that context that she shared insight on mentorship.  She told me that, like her, many artists enjoy alone time; they become deeply engrossed in their work and may have many hours of silence.  As she has become more and more engrained in the local artist community, she has participated in classes and group sessions during which many artists work on their individual pieces together in the same room at the same time.  She believes she has learned more in those moments as a peer mentor and mentee than at any other time in her capacity as an artist.  She said the participants walk around and engage with the work of the others in the room; they offer ideas and suggestions for one another’s pieces.  She went on to say this:

Sometimes, my fellow artists and I need say nothing at all.  Our physical and facial reactions to one another’s work is all the communication necessary.  Though words may not be exchanged, we offer guidance, advice, support and encouragement to one another.  It’s been a deeply moving and educational experience for me.

To Karen and Mike:  Thank you!  The CLC community is so grateful to you for sharing such enlightening insight on the concept of mentoring and what one may take from such a relationship.  I, for one, learn a little something more from you every time we’re together.  For me, you are mentors, champions, educators, friends, family.   Such gifts… truly an embarrassment of riches!

To the CLC Community:  Do you have a mentor – or mentors?  Who are they?  How did you come to know them?  Have you served as a mentor?  Why do you do it?  Why is it important to you?  Give these questions some consideration as you think about mentorship during this special month.

3 thoughts to “All the Communication Necessary: Gifts of Mentoring Relationships”

  1. Alana,

    Fantastic post. I especially liked Mike’s response to why he takes meetings with young professionals. It hits home with me as a young entrepreneur. Some of the greatest athletes have said to be the top learners and are humble enough to take that perspective. I have a mentor call in an hour and will be sharing this with him. Thanks!

    1. Thanks so much, Logan. It is so wonderful to have a mentor with such wisdom and insight. Plus, both Hermans are fabulous storytellers so it makes the learning all the more fun! Delighted you are in a mentoring relationship, too, and are clearly extracting value from it. Well done!

  2. Alana;

    Another wonderful post. So many young leaders desire honest development and it is during this development that true mentorship somehow just happens. Being the example, showing passion, drive and balance, and caring for others returns an incredibly high interest rate. Mike is spot on, incredible fulfillment!

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