Mentoring relationships should give you a ‘push, pull and a pat’


If you’re looking for guidance or mentoring in your job, look first to your peers. That’s the advice Audrey Murrell, associate dean and professor in the College of Business Administration, gave this week at a Staff Council workshop on mentoring.

Staff Mentor Award

Staff Council is offering a Staff Mentor Award for the second year, with the prize being tuition compensation for the Certificate for Organizational Leadership and Ethics program. The deadline for nominations is Nov. 5 and the winner will be announced at the Staff Recognition Ceremony in December.

Murrell said research has found that when companies are trying to retain people or move them ahead through advancement, no other method is as powerful as a well-designed mentoring program.

But, she said, “Mentoring is not this thing that’s a size 7 shoe.” Depending on what your department’s issue is — retention of people, climate and inclusiveness or advancement — there’s not one size that fits all.

Too often, Murrell said, companies say they want a mentoring program, but don’t have a clear objective, other than, “our people need to be mentored … because they’re asking to be mentored.”

Pitt has its own set of problems, she said.

“This is a really hard place to navigate; it’s like an octopus that’s out of control,” she said. “It also can be kind of cold. We’re not Carlow. We’re not a small footprint by any imagination. We have a tendency to get into our little silos and stick there because there’s a lot of work to do.”

Audrey MurrellAs an administrator, she’s had to figure out for her staff, “How do you advance in this place? Can you identify a career ladder ... a career stepstool? How do I get from a 1 to a 2 (job class); can I move across job classes?”

Mentoring can help, but Murrell said there are several myths or mistakes people make about mentoring.

  1. Some believe “all we need to do is sprinkle some mentoring fairy dust on a cornucopia of problems and magically it’s going to be fixed.” There is a smorgasbord of mentoring solutions — individual, group, virtual, work mentoring — and “we approach this powerful smorgasbord and only eat the fish. We take the power out of it.”
  1. We think that we need to find a single mentor and that person will be “someone I like, who has similar interests, that’s doing something I like to do, where we have … this great relationship. … And this person will understand me and it will just happen.” Mentoring relationships aren’t magical. “Relationships are hard work, and mentoring is a relationship. You get out of it what you put into it.”
  1. It’s not sponsors from above, but peers who often help us open the doors to new positions. Peer mentoring is one of the most powerful and underutilized sources of mentoring. Murrell said when she first became a faculty member, there was a group of women faculty members in different departments that she had breakfast with once a month. They mentored her by helping her navigate the University and its vocabulary. They gave feedback and eventually helped her get a job in Business Administration. The conversations helped her and the other women, which is a key to good mentoring — reciprocity.
  1. If we don’t disrupt the tendencies of like to pick like, we will never change the face of organizations. We need to reach out to mentor people who are not like us. “I want you to be someone who has to mentor and be connected to someone who’s a young African-American faculty member, like me, who stepped into her first 200 enrollment class and got hate mail from students,” she said. “Together we could actually plot a course to success where we all benefit.”
  1. In addition to helping personal advancement, mentoring is a driver for innovation. Peer to peer mentoring and reverse mentoring from those in lower positions is a knowledge transfer tool. “If we did better at talking across this organization then some of the things we need to solve, we actually could solve.”
  1. We need to shift away from going to our bosses for mentoring. “If you expect your boss to do all this, that’s a pretty big burden,” Murrell said. She said the staff taught her how to do her job as an administrator. Mentoring should come from all sides, above, below and parallel. Mentoring relationships give you a “push, pull and a pat.”

Murrell praised Staff Council for being a place you can encounter people from a wide variety of areas. “You could be sitting in the room with the next vice chancellor of something important.”  

“The more I interact with staff on this campus, it’s amazing the talent we have,” she said. “There isn’t anything that I need to do that I couldn’t find a staff member with the expertise … and I don’t think we appreciate that or leverage that as much as we could.”

She also made a pitch for the staff Certificate for Organizational Leadership and Ethics (COLE) program in the Berg Center for Ethics and Leadership, which grew out of a student program. It is now in its fifth year, and more than 1,500 staff have completed the program. There are eight workshops offered — four a semester — and participants have to complete six to get the certificate. The faculty do it as part of their service to the school and don’t get paid, to keep the fee down.

Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at or 412-648-4294.