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Public Administration Mentoring: A Testament to Life-Long Learning

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Marvin N. Pichla
September 1, 2020

Public Administration Mentoring…have you read a book or article on it lately or in the past? Wouldn’t it seem logical and appropriate, given our ever-changing public-sector environment, that life-long mentoring between and among public administration professionals should be a required, more structured learning standard?

When you think about the term mentoring, what typically comes to mind and what picture/vision do you see? I believe in most instances it is a picture of an older person speaking while sitting back in a worn oak desk chair and a younger person seated nearby busily taking notes. Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary backs up this observation with the following mentor definition: “A trusted counselor, guide, tutor or coach.” Roget’s Thesaurus seems to look past the traditional age factor in its description of a mentor: “One who advises another officially, professionally or someone who shows the way.” Both reference books are similar in their description of the mentoring action, but sadly doesn’t it seem to always be structured around a “one-way-street” of sharing, primarily from old to young? Shouldn’t mentoring be a deliberate two-way-street of explanation, understanding, options and decisionmaking without an age influence? And therefore wouldn’t it be appropriate, timely and informative to examine Public Administration Mentoring in a unique professional-to-professional almost case study fashion and take stock of valuable lessons for use in the future?

Based on these questions, the balance of this article, “Public Administration Mentoring: A Testament to Life-Long Learning,” will be dedicated to a review of the specific learnings generated by an informal but unique long-term co-mentoring experience. The two candidates involved in this experience-based study were a male and female, close in age, employed in a similar public administration position and sector, but working in different areas of a U.S. state. Their interaction over an initial thirty-year period was standardly once a month. However, as their career directions changed, their co-mentoring occurrences lessened, but transitioned to be much more focused. One changed course and developed a consulting business focused on building public sector innovations. The other proceeded to assume higher level positions in the State and Federal governments. However, both remained successful and fortunately life-long professional-to-professional, co-mentors to one another covering multiple public administration areas.

Typically, at this point in describing any case study effort, one would spend a little narrative time describing the process, research, comparisons, methodologies and results. However, in an effort to offer the most career-building concepts to those progressing in the field of public administration, simple observational research was utilized to gather the most practical considerations for this article. Therefore, outlined and briefly explained below are the summarized “two-way-street” cooperative public administration co-mentor-to-co-mentor learnings that are intended to assist future-thinking professionals in their day-to-day activities. This list of ten in no way represents all of the co-mentoring specialized learnings that could have been reported, but instead lists those considered most career impactful!

  1. Two-way co-mentoring as you age becomes even more important for facilitating continuous improvement. Hearing thoughts about, “What Could Be?” especially from young public administrators serves as stretching exercises to those who commit to routines.
  1. By participating in life-long mentoring, one builds and retains a reputation for sharing and partnering. It will foster public service diversity and new friendships in countless areas.
  1. One must treat each life-long co-mentoring moment as a Masters-Level public administration class in-session. Listening, asking questions and full engagement are required.
  1. As part of the open co-mentoring experience, allow professional limits/weaknesses to be shared. Co-mentor partners may be able to assist in strengthening each other’s challenge areas.
  1. Life-long co-mentoring will demonstrate that you are never “past-your-prime” to have a good/great idea.
  1. Ageless professional-to-professional co-mentoring helps dealing with and better understanding public administration disappointments, personnel frustrations, board concerns, etc.
  1. Long-term, two-way co-mentoring will confirm the value of being FIRST to show your support for a colleague’s good idea. Being second…is just that.
  1. Two-way public administration co-mentoring assists in recognizing and adjusting to the most appropriate timing for initiating a new public service and/or addressing a specific program concern.
  1. Recognizing the meaning of legacy becomes clearer with the result of participating in quality life-long public administration co-mentoring. It is about actions and words…not you.
  1. Always make firm a schedule for your next (continuing) two-way public administration face-to- face co-mentoring session before you part ways. If you don’t…it may not happen.

The goal of this article, “Public Administration Mentoring: A Testament to Life-Long Learning,” was to offer a real life example and progressive professional concepts resulting from a quality co-mentoring experience. True co-mentoring has no legitimate age limitations because today listening more closely to younger public administrators could assist to more effectively and efficiently move the public administration system forward. Most importantly, we must value the ability to listen…COMPLETELY and allow long-term public administration co-mentoring to take a higher priority in our life-long learning processes.


Author: Marvin N. Pichla, Ph.D., is the owner and creative adviser of Inspiring Innovations, Inc. Sharing his unique entrepreneurship and innovation in public service experience, Marv consults with public and private business, education and community organizations to develop new and different problem-solving methods through real-life, example-based learning. Email: [email protected], @TRIPLEIIITIME

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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