The Art of Project Management: Expert advice from experienced project managers in Silicon Valley, and around the world

From Mentor to Colleague

Some mentoring relationships last a single meeting, but others last a lifetime. Sometimes a mentoring relationship will turn into a long term relationship. (No, I don’t mean that you sleep with your mentor, or marry them.) I mean that they will come to value and enjoy the mentoring relationship as much as you do. This has happened in several of my mentoring relationships. Because we enjoyed our mentoring sessions so much we continued them beyond the point where I was seeking advice and guidance from them. Eventually they started to ask me for advice. Mentoring turned into co-mentoring, and eventually friendship. (I sometimes have joked that they were the mentor, but I was the tor-mentor!)

Several of my mentoring relationships have gone through the transformation from mentor to friend. Here’s one story of a 15 year mentoring relationship that turned upside down.

Deandra (not her real name – gosh, is anyone named that?) came to my division at HP when I was young and foolish 9as opposed to older and foolish, like I am now). She was about as subtle as a freight train going at full speed through a crowded intersection. Many of the more traditional men started badmouthing her because of her abrasive style. Naturally I adored her immediately! Determined to be associated with this person who was even more of a lightening rod for criticism than me, I walked over to her desk and introduced myself. After a couple of months I asked her to be my mentor. Now, usually I don’t use “the M word” when inviting mentoring, but in this case I did. True to form, she asked me why I wanted a mentor, and why I chose her. To be honest, I was taken by surprise, so I had to make up some pathetic story about how I was highly committed to contributing far more to our business results, and that she inspired me with her obvious leadership ability. In fact I just wanted the opportunity to get to know this woman who did the right thing no matter the cost to her social and political standing in the workplace.

I learned so much! She taught me EVERYTHING about leading and managing a business. I wrote it all down on a placemat at Buck’s in Woodside (It fit on a single placemat, but that’s a characteristic of great wisdom – it’s concise!). And I have been using and benefiting from her advice ever since.

Although we started meeting monthly, eventually our career paths diverged, and we started meeting only annually. Over 15 years later we are still in touch. We’re not FRIENDS friends, like “gals go shopping together” friends, but we are professional friends, and I value her contribution to my career very much. In the past few years my career has been going very smoothly, and she’s gone through a lot of changes.

Oddly enough, she recently started asking me for career guidance, advice and job references. At first I felt a little odd about this upside-down mentoring relationship with someone who’s so much more experienced than me. But now I realize that we’ve moved beyond mentoring into what I’ve started to call “co-mentoring”. It’s kind of cool! And it’s a reminder to me that I’ve grown over the years. Last week she sent me a message saying she’d landed a great job at an awesome company. I wonder how our relationship will evolve from here. Whatever happens, I know this is a person I still look up to, and can still learn from.

If you’d like to turn a mentoring relationship into a long-term friendship, here are some guidelines:

  • Choose people you like and admire.
  • Keep the experience enjoyable.
  • Don’t just focus on yourself. Listen to them. Ask them how their work is going, too.
  • Share some personal details about yourself. Don’t pressure them, but invite them to do so, too, if they’re willing.

Naturally all of your mentoring relationships will benefit from following these guidelines, but these will be particularly helpful in turning a mentor into a friend.

No one achieves success without the help of others. The most successful people ask for and accept help!

Pass it on. Remember to help others as you climb the ladder of success, reaching one hand back as you reach the other forward to your future.




About the Author

Kimberly Wiefling is the author of one of the top project management books in the US, "Scrappy Project Management - The 12 Predictable and Avoidable Pitfalls Every Project Faces", and the founder of Wiefling Consulting, LLC, a scrappy global consulting enterprise committed to enabling her clients to achieve highly unlikely or darn near impossible results, predictably and repeatedly. Her work focuses on keynote speaking and workshops on practical and sensible business leadership and project/program management scaled for the size of the company and the project. She has worked with companies of all sizes, including one-person ventures and those in the Fortune 500, and she has helped to launch and grow more than half a dozen startups, a few of which are reaping excellent profits at this very moment. She spends about half of her time working with Japan-based companies that are committed to developing truly global leaders. Kimberly holds a B.S. in Chemistry and Physics from Wright State University and a M.S. in Physics from Case Institute. She spent 10 years at HP working in product development project management and engineering leadership. She worked with several startups, including a Xerox Parc spinoff where she was the VP of Program Management. In 2001 she launched her consulting practice and never looked back. She holds a certificate in project management through UC Santa Cruz Extension, where she is an instructor in the Project and Program Management Certificate Program. Kimberly spends about half of her time facilitating leadership, communication and execution excellence workshops for leaders of Japanese companies committed to becoming truly global. Thousands of people have viewed the hysterical video documenting the final phase of completing her book at You can reach her via email at
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