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Anna G. Larson, Published November 30 2012

A guide, a friend, a mentor: Execs say relationships key to success

FARGO – Over the course of her career, Tonya Stende has had many mentors.

One significant mentor, Eide Bailly’s former managing partner Darold Rath, helped her see strengths she didn’t know she had. Because of Rath, Stende says she gets to do what she loves every day as the president of the Dale Carnegie Business Group.

“A mentor provides us with an objective, unbiased look at ourselves and helps us to facilitate the process of getting where we want to go,” she says.

Seventy-five percent of executives point to mentoring as playing a key role in their careers, and 44 percent of CEOs list mentoring programs as one of the three most effective strategies to enhance women’s advancement into senior management, according to the American Society of Training and Development.

“The mentor is there to be a cheerleader,” Stende says.

Kristi Huber, the resource development director for United Way of Cass Clay, sees the difference a mentor has on careers every year. Huber facilitates the organization’s 35 Under 35 Women’s Leadership Program. The purpose of the program, which is now in its fifth year, is to help women gain confidence in their skill sets and network with other women in the community, Huber says. Women learn about topics like mentorship.

“It’s so fun to see how the women grow,” she says. “For these women, it’s life-changing. It gives them that extra boost to apply for a new job or promotion, and at the heart of it, it builds leadership.”

While there’s no formal mentoring in the program, Huber says the women naturally find mentors with other women in the program or with the male and female professionals who speak at the program’s monthly meeting.

“There’s most definitely a special bond between women, but it’s just as common to see a solid male-female mentor-mentee relationship,” Huber says. “It really goes back to the idea that we don’t work in a one-gender workforce, so naturally, our mentors will be both men and women.”

Informal mentorship, she says, can be the most beneficial because the people aren’t assigned to each other and instead form a relationship based on common interest.

Stende says she’s had many individuals who became mentors because they had a positive professional or personal relationship and high levels of trust for each other.

“The important point of any mentoring relationship is there needs to be a connection with the mentor and mentee,” she says. “A mentor relationship should be viewed as more of a personal trusted adviser, both in business and in life.”

Since mentoring steered Stende into the career path she loves, she mentors others, too. She says she hopes to help mentees see things about themselves they may not have realized yet, just like Rath did for her.

“My greatest hope would be for people to achieve more than they could have possibly imagined, both professionally and personally,” Stende says. “With that being said, there will be challenges along the way, and the importance of this mentor relationship is trust and the ability to be vulnerable and get unbiased advice and encouragement.”

Women wanting to mentor someone after they’ve been mentored is common, Huber says. The women involved in the 35 Under 35 program like coming back to volunteer, she says.

“In this community, there are so many great leaders who want to see people succeed and reach their dreams,” Huber says. “It betters the community.”