Home » Ed Marx » Currently Reading:

CIO Unplugged 2/2/11

February 2, 2011 Ed Marx 85 Comments

The Lost Art of Mentoring

Who taught you life skills? Did anyone coach you in the ways of culture and values? An uncle? Your grandma? The television?

The movie Gran Torino with Clint Eastwood gives a genuine, raw portrayal of mentoring. In a nutshell, Eastwood attempts to teach the immigrant neighbor boy how to be a man. He starts by teaching Thao the skill of carpentry: how to hold a hammer and which tools to always have on hand.

Then he comically endeavors to educate the kid on manly talk and how to act like a man. Eastwood verbalizes it, then demonstrates it, and finally observes Thao doing what he’s learned. The mission took time, money, energy, and the forging of a relationship, but it was worth it.

Some of us wish we had an Eastwood-like character in our lives. Speaking from experience, we all need mentors. When I became CIO of a large, prestigious organization in my mid 30s, I was both elated and scared. Mostly scared. What gave me comfort and accelerated my success were my mentors. Even today, despite the 10 years’ of experience under my belt, I can’t grow without a mentor.

Dictionary.com defines mentoring as an ongoing, planned partnership that focuses on helping a person reach specific goals over a period of time. Unfortunately, the art of mentoring has rarely caught on in the business world, healthcare included. We see this reflected specifically in the graying of existing leadership and the lack of succession planning.

This type of one-on-one interaction — lost somewhere after the apprenticeships of the pre-industrial age — has been replaced with short-term, focused leadership programs. These programs attempt to turbo-charge management education by cramming years of collective wisdom into a one-week synopsis. For example, the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME) offers an excellent leadership development program entitled “The CIO Boot Camp” that cannot keep up with the demand for enrollment. Why is it so popular? It fills the mentoring void in today’s organizations.

Is mentoring beneficial in healthcare? Yes, when done right. Committing to mentor another person is an investment in the long-term success of an organization, a selfless act of service for the sake of the profession and the future of healthcare.

This type of partnering also offers something a person might not get directly from their supervisor: broader experience, organizational perspective, and new skills. Let the CFO or CNO mentor an IT professional. If the CNO teaches the info specialist leadership skills, that will broaden the mentee’s ability and understanding.

Determining the appropriate mentor. Examine your strengths and weaknesses. Match up a clinician with a CFO in order to gain key insights into the healthcare financial world. Cross-pollination does wonders to promote teamwork and connectedness. (Mentors from outside of the organization or healthcare might offer a level of anonymity and broad perspective, but they would lack the context for key elements of discussions.)

Mentoring programs and recruiting. Job candidates respond favorably when they understand that the organization cares for their professional development and will enable them to achieve career success. Over time, as the mentoring program becomes a major differentiator in recruitment efforts, your organization will become an employer of choice. Gallop has statistically demonstrated that an organization with a high level of engaged employees significantly outperforms non-engaged workforces in areas including customer satisfaction and financial results –  both employee and employer win. Clearly, such programs lead to improved health in the corporate setting.

Partnering exposes you to new insights and understanding. One academic medical center I know sends its IT leaders on annual short-term mentoring assignments to all of its clinical departments. The CIO began routine rounds with physicians and residents. In each case, the mentor allowed the IT leader to experience the specific clinical care setting, answered questions, and discussed the critical intersection of IT and quality patient care. Each IT leader came back with a new sense of purpose and motivation. They in turn made immediate changes to IT systems and support to help ensure a higher quality of care.

Mentoring develops future IT leaders. Given the limited pool of emerging leaders, mentoring is more critical than ever. Identifying and growing talent within our organizations is imperative. Our leadership effectiveness is not so much based on formal education and rigorous reading, but in real-life, on-the-job experiences.

Restoring the lost art. We are the sum of our collective inputs. I credit my success to my mentors. I have been deliberate in this process. On even years, I mentor someone. On odd years, I am mentored. I require each of my direct reports to do the same. I’ve been formally mentored by health system CEOs, COOs, CFOs, CMOs and hospital presidents. I have mentored many who have since moved into positions of authority. Check out the many resources available on establishing quality mentoring programs.

A personal board of directors. At this stage of my career, I have had so many mentors that I consider them my board of directors. In fact, just today, I needed help in specific situation, so I called up a former mentor and met him for lunch. I left that meeting ready to conquer the world — or at least my personal struggle.

Resources. Anyone who posts a comment, I will send to you a simple one-page mentoring contract you can use to facilitate your own relationships. I will also send to you a list of “golden nuggets,” the bits of wisdom I have learned from being both a mentee and mentor.

Update 2/8/11

Thank you for the many responses. By now, everyone who posted should have received the Mentoring Contract and the mentoring Golden Nuggets.

Quick answers to some of the questions.

I do not recommend mentoring any person in your chain of command. That is one reason for mentoring across disciplines. This is hard to avoid at the most senior levels, but can be accomplished by having a mentor outside of your organization.

Your chances of landing a willing mentor are exponentially increased if you disarm them first by telling them it is for a fixed period of time at regular intervals not to exceed one year, that you will handle all logistics and work around their schedule, that the relationship will be confidential, and you have a contract where you will define objectives. Genuine flattery helps — I have never been turned down.

Don’t wait on your organization or be a part of a weak mentoring system. Do what I call grassroots mentoring. Find someone who would make a strong mentor and ask them. But how do you identify a mentor? Observation. Look around you. Who do you admire or look up to? What disciplines do you need help in? Who inspires you? Who are you attracted to?

Finally, while I believe in diversity, I choose only males to mentor and mentee. Personal preference.

On the vendor side, those were some tough questions. To the extent possible, carve out the time for mentoring and make it untouchable. Because I often mentor with executives, I normally pick a breakfast slot. One, breaking bread is intimate. Two, you are less likely to have interruptions and tardiness. Three, everyone has to eat.

Ed Marx is a CIO currently working for a large integrated health system. Ed encourages your interaction through this blog. Add a comment by clicking the link at the bottom of this post. You can also connect with him directly through his profile pages on social networking sites LinkedIn and Facebook and you can follow him via Twitter — user name marxists.

View/Print Text Only View/Print Text Only

HIStalk Featured Sponsors


Currently there are "85 comments" on this Article:

  1. Ed,
    You are so correct about the value of mentoring and how it seen less often today. It seems to me the rush to market and the rush to efficiency and the rush to finish make people think there is no time for mentoring. But, it’s like having no time to plan: the plan-do-check process takes far less time than do-check-plan approach, but it is sometimes hard to convince people of that.
    I have been fortunate to have a few mentors, some who didn’t even know they were mentoring me, in my long career and have mentored many.
    Thanks for your insightful articles each week.

  2. Mark, I love the even/odd year idea. Through my group of mentors, I am building a personal partnership council and am enjoying having them meet each other as we enjoy the journey.

  3. Thank again Ed for a great piece. Other than mentoring or being a mentor , it takes some skill to find the right mentor that can help you in areas you lack experience or knowledge in, or even the simple advice that can help you in the most difficult of times.
    Thank you for this great article

  4. Ed, I really enjoy reading your blogs here. The one about emergency readiness should be mandatory reading for any CIO.

    I’ve had two mentors in my 25 yr career and have probably suffered due to that low number. I’d love to see the contract and I really like the idea of the even/odd years that you do.

    thanks very much.

  5. Ed–another great post. I was very fortunate to have wonderful mentoring from John Glaser. I credit a big part of my success to his mentorship. I also believe in paying it forward and now mentor many others. I’d welcome your nuggets.

  6. Ed, I am a strong believer in the mentoring system. I feel that it is a strong factor in helping make someone a success. I look forward to your additional input.

  7. Great post, Ed. Don’t forget there is also an opportunity to help mentor vendors, consultants, and people outside your organization as well!

    When I first joined the Healthcare IT world at Emergin I took on a number of mentors at nearby hospitals. From Clinical Engineering Directors to Nurse Managers, I would try to schedule monthly mentoring meetings where my goal was to better understand that persons roles and responsibilities and get recommendations on how to improve my knowledge in areas that needed improvement.

    That mentoring helped me come up to speed in HIT quickly and eventually helped me gather the courage to leave Emergin and create Voalté.

    Thanks for the post and encouraging more mentoring!


  8. Great article as usual. I will appreciate the contract. The only issue with mentoring is that, it is difficult to find a willing mentor.

  9. I do a great deal of mentoring of early and mid-career physicians with leadership ambitions and some MD/MBA students as well. More recently, I’ve offered time and mentoring to non-physicians. I work as a CMIO and I see considerable potential mentoring opportunities among MIS Department employees who don’t report to me and are not physicians. What do you think of cross-discipline mentoring? What do you think of mentoring subordinates in your CIO’s department? I fear it may be misperceived or thought to be threatening. Thank you for your blog post.

  10. Ed:
    I have worked for a few companies in my career, all of which advertised mentoring programs. As an ambitious young employee, I found it difficult to find much substance behind these programs and start up the type of committment you describe. I would be very interested in hearing more on how to identify mentors and initiate these relationships. Thank you for sharing your experiences, -Greg.

  11. Ed – Thank you for this valuable insight! Any suggestions for employees that (always) work remotely? Or for those employees of companies that don’t prioritize mentoring? Are there any online mentoring organizations? (And if not – will you be starting one??)

    Thanks again!

  12. In my previous career as a clinical physician this was the one thing I sat down and formally taught all of my medical students, residents and PA students. I prefaced the talk by saying that this was THE most important key to being a successful _______(research scientist, clinician, etc) that was not taught formally in school.

  13. I find a deep bench of mentors is very worthwhile. Gaining perspective from others who have had the same or similar experiences, who can objectively view the details of the situation and who know you, is invaluable. Adults grow more through experiential learning. I found myself early-on not sharing all the details about a situation and not sharing as much about myself. Once I started to open-up to the opportunity, I progressed. This opening-up is also a part of the mentoring process.

    As usual, great post. Thank you

  14. Ed,
    I learn so much from your posts. You inspire me to think & look at things differently. This blog feels like a mentor outreach program – those of us who read it benefit from your wisdom & nuggets in odd & even years 🙂

  15. I have always though of my role as a leader to include mentoring as an integral part of the leadership process. And while I do this intentionally, I have not executed a formal approach as you suggest. As for me as a mentee, I have less frequently found intentional mentoring from my peers and superiors. However, I have tried to make effective use of observation techniques to garner the same benefits.

    Thanks for continuing to share your insights, Ed.

  16. Another great tidbit of good advice from Ed! How many years I have longed for a good mentor, and sadly, found none. Even worse, I have had so many bad role models (many of them my managers), I learned well what not to do! Sigh. Hopefully your article will inspire many organizations to take a fresh look and start a mentoring program. We’d all be further ahead!

  17. Ed,
    Thanks for the great post. I agree with Andy – finding a willing mentor is a difficult process. Looking forward to your contract and nuggets.

  18. Ed, you are spot on with this. I will tell you that I have been a member of an “Anonymous” 12 step recovery program for the last 20 years that literally teaches that without mentor, or sponsor as they call it, you will not make it. In the environment of addiction, you life is on the line so not making it means dying, pretty drammatic. Transpose that to the professional world of healthcare IT, if you do not have a mentor, you will not make it, that is the philosophy I carry. I am a new CIO and am very hungry for a “sponsor.” The organization I came from valued this relationship, but IS dept did not so it was lacking. Now I have the opportunity to set the tone and plan on taking full advantage of it. I would welcome any documentation you might have to help me on this road. Thank you!

  19. Great article about an important topic. Just a thougth from the vendor side as many vendor employees read this. Mentors can be harder to find in the vendor world b/c of the pressure and need to deliver revenue and numbers. It causes willing mentors and their students to put blinders on to one goal and lose focus on the bigger picture of the HIT industry.

    Keep the great articles coming!

  20. My dad was my mentor and I lost him over a year ago. He was a high school football coach so he helped hundreds of boys become men. It is amazing how much of a difference one man can make in the lives of so many. All it takes is time. If you ever need inspiration you can read what his players said about him http://www.coachherp.com

  21. Ed,
    I agree with your points, and value mentoring – always have, always will. Many organizations claim a “mentoring program” but I have found the results can be quite variable, depending on the commitment of both mentors and mentees. It is not enough to assign a person a name of a mentor, both parties must commit to the journey. I look forward to your contract and tips to help me do just that.

  22. I work in at a very fine, but relatively small, local community hospital. Turnover is relatively light. So after 13 years here, I have expanded my search for mentors. I now have a number of virtual mentors. We may never meet, but thanks to all (including you).

  23. Thanks for the informative post. I’m in the process of trying to find some mentors to help me navigate the exponentially rising sea of technology. I’m a software engineer two years out of grad school and am often overwhelmed by the amount of technologies in and the rate of expansion of my field. I believe that having a mentor to point me in the right direction but still let me make and learn from my own mistakes would be incredibly useful.

  24. As someone that is currently being mentored, I completely agree with that article. I have seen my knowledge and abilities grow at a rate far surpassing what I would have been able to do on my own.

  25. What a great pitch for the lost art of mentoring! I totally agree with you on the benefits of mentoring and being mentored. Short term training as a supplement to mentoring is wonderful but not a replacement. Often today’s busy schedules leave little room for mentoring – not allowing time for this practice is a complete disservice to both the company and the employees!
    I’m looking forward to the mentoring resources that you promised. Thanks!

  26. Yes please share your contract and nuggets. I have be a vagabond for the beginning of my career, looking for a mentor. It would be helpful to have something to fill that need to have mentor.

  27. Thank you for the great article. As i read it I couldn’t help but think of how much sense it makes but how truly under utilized it is.

  28. Thank you, Ed, for your insightful article. I have recently committed to mentor 2 pharmacy students, so I’m eager to read your contract and nuggets.

  29. Here’s the rub: “Mentor[ing] another person is an investment in the long-term success of an organization”. How many organizations truly promote the long-term view? And how many people are committed to a long-term relationship with their organization, seeing the organization’s lack of reciprocity? Mentoring is indeed a huge asset, but requires a long-term focus that is often overlooked in today’s world.

    Great post, and informative, regardless of the above comment.

  30. Thanks for another enjoyable read. I, like many others have been blessed with wonderful mentors. As for finding a willing mentor being difficult (as was mentioned by a couple of readers), I have to disagree. Everyone likes to share their knowledge… don’t be afraid to ask for the help! I have remained in contact with those who were mentors to me, and I have always gone out of my way to help others achieve personal and professional success! The rewards you revie from helping others is unmeasurable, but sure does make you feel good about yourself.

    I look forward to your contract and nuggets Ed.

    Thanks Again!

  31. Ed, I’d love to receive your contract and nuggets of wisdom.

    I think that too often in any business people at every career stage are afraid of showing weakness – or what they perceive to be weakness – and thus are scared to reach out to those who have gone before for fear of looking incompetent.

    Another problem is the reactive workplace, where everything is 100 miles an hour, all the time, and investing in any process or any relationship that takes real engagement is (mistakenly) seen as a waste of that precious time.

    Third, many potential mentors think they haven’t got that much to give. Again, false. We’ve all accumulated our share of knowledge, worked through failures, achieved successes – all three would help those that follow.

    The question (s) is/are, are we willing to take the time to invest ourselves in mentees, and will they be willing to openly receive what we have to give?

  32. Ed,
    Always look forward to your posts. Your teams must operate on high octane with your leadership and attention to employee growth. I agree with RustBeltFan, you can get steered awry with a poor mentor sometimes without knowledge it is happening… A good mentor is a treasure and a great saftey net for reassurance.
    Thank you

  33. Ed,Iam going to echo some of the sentiments expressed before,I have been in the informatics field for now 10 years.As a person with both Medicine and technology background ,I was able to absorb and learn by my own efforts and would have really benefited from a mentor/mentorship program.
    “Mentoring -a selfless act of service for the sake of the profession and the future of healthcare.”
    no words can be wiser:)

  34. Excellent article Ed. I am currently in position of receiving some”un-official” mentoring and which has proven itself invaluable. I look forward to receiving your gold nuggets of wisdom and hopefully returning the favor one day. Thank you!

  35. Ed-Great subject. While I’ve yet to find an ‘in healthcare’ mentor with the direct relationship that you talk about, I have definitely found learning opportunities whether it was internal or external coaching. I truly value learning from others and bettering myself both personally and professionally. My biggest influences in my life have been my father and gymnastic coaches. It’s amazing how much you learn in a gym from someone and how that translates to the world of Healthcare as well! Thanks for the insight!

  36. Wow Ed, I’d say you have sparked some interest.

    When your leading in the right direction you will always find others that will recognize it and willingly follow through any storm. The point is to keep yourself leading in the right direction. Your doing it well, keep up the great work.

  37. We’re looking for guidance on mentoring new employees and staff in leadership roles. We’re a small company with virtual teams – your advice comes at a great time. Love your posts…

  38. Great post. Sixteen years ago, I was lucky to be “assigned” a mentor at my new job. Although she’s left the company, she continues to mentor me. I consider our connection an extraordinary twist of fate and hope others can be as lucky.

  39. Mr. Marx,

    I, too, would appreciate your mentoring contract and golden nuggets. I already feel a bit bad about this one-way relationship because I certainly “take” from you all the time! I promise to do my best to give back to others though! Be blessed.

  40. I am wondering if it is important for me to define the mentor/mentee relationship. I have had both mentors and mentees in my education and career path, mostly through some formal programs. (and you are right, some mentorship was lost, after some point, unfortunately). Now let’s say I have a former supervisor who I greatly respect and learn a great deal from, is it necessary for me to ask him to become my mentor so that I can keep the mentorship? Thanks!

  41. Wish my CIO would take the time to mentor. It would be a tremendous benefit to all who report to him. I like the notion of mentors outside IT…perhaps that is the direction I should turn for now. Thanks for continuing to post, Ed.

  42. Excelent read as always. I couldn’t agree more and I’ve always been someone looking for and finding mentors but now I’m at the place in my career where I want to try to reverse those roles more and work on being a good mentor to friends and colleagues. An alumni group I’m part of has been working on engaging alumni interested in being mentors for students so any info you have would be extremely helpful to get this program off the ground.

  43. Is mentoring beneficial in healthcare? Yes, when done right. Committing to mentor another person is an investment in the long-term success of an organization, a selfless act of service for the sake of the profession and the future of healthcare.

    It certainly is. Mentoring is a SOP in medical training. That is, Attending mentors—> Fellows —> mentor Residents —> Mentor med students.

  44. Ed,
    I always look forward to your posts and this one continues the tradition. Thanks for all you do to keep us going. Frequently, I reflect on your blog about your mother that you posted several weeks ago.
    Thank you,

  45. Thanks for the confirmation of how important mentorship is. I have always believed that the (knowledge) I give away, creates room for receiving new knowledge and experiences in my journey. Thanks!

  46. Hello Ed,
    I am a big believer in mentoring, and appreciate seeing it promoted as an ongoing benefit and responsibility. I typically only see it promoted with goals of minimal initial proficiency, as opposed to an opportunity for ongoing development. Would love to see your contract, the “one year mentored, next year mentoring” approach is intriguing.

  47. Good article.

    Savvy leaders recognize and respect experience, without experience you cannot mentor. As a leader your bonds with your employees strengthen with mentoring, but a word to the wise, mentoring is like advice, it is not welcome when forced upon someone.

  48. I wonder if mentoring has had a resurgence over the past 10 years, with the bursting of the Internet bubble and the associated unreasonable expectations of my generation and younger. Looking for a mentor requires a person to acknowledge 1) he doesn’t already know everything, and 2) work may be required to achieve the goals he wants to achieve – in short, a lack of sense of entitlement.

    Ed, thanks for taking the time to write this article. I’ve never had a good mentor, but I’ve been thinking about trying to find one for years. I’d like a copy of your contract and nuggets. Thanks!

  49. Thanks for reminding us of the value of mentoring. I find myself considering “what do I want to be when I grow up next?” again and I appreciated your thoughts.

    Thanks for “paying it forward.” I’ll share what you send me as well.

  50. Thanks for sharing this most insightful approach to mentoring. I look forward to the nuggets and compare what I try to do in managing my team everyday.

    Ed! Your posts are always thought provoking! Please Keep them coming!

  51. I enjoy reading your pragmatic approaches flavored with a constant eye on growth. I’d enjoy the information you are willing to share.

  52. Nice article Ed. I agree with your thought on ‘not mentoring any person in your chain of command’. From my experience I have seen that such relationship work if some goals are set and measured with time, else it becomes like meeting a friend that you meet and say hi! and bye! I have been fortunate to have some wonderful mentors right from the time I started working and now I too mentor younger people in our organization. It is a serious commitment both for the mentor and mentee and it works wonders in helping the mentee’s growth. Organizations survive and grow at their core due to human bonds within it and mentoring helps to strength such bonds.

  53. Your article has inspired me – I plan to ask an executive who recently took over new responsibilities so that I am no longer in her chain of command to be my mentor. Thank you.

  54. As a young professional, always networking and identifying both formal and informal mentors, I loved this article. However, I found the following comment about getting someone to commit to mentoring surprising: “…telling them it is for a fixed period of time at regular intervals not to exceed one year”. In some situations (i.e. high profile mentor with very limited time and no existing relationship), a mentor would be likely to agree, but what about those who hope to build an ongoing relationship? I imagine a statement like this may turn them off? Either way, definitely something to think about. Would you mind sending your contract? I’d like to try out some of the strategies you mentioned. Thanks!

  55. Hi Ed,
    I’d appreciate your contract. Putting boundaries around any relationship…especially when you are the main beneficiary of said relationship…is so wise and healthy. Thanks for a great article!

  56. Ed,
    I would appreciate a copy of your mentoring contract and your list of “golden nuggets,”.
    Thanks for sharing!
    – Mike – (health care IT)

  57. Hi Ed,

    We are working on a Mentoring Forum aimed at establishing best practices in mentor-mentee relationships and would love to discuss your contract and Golden Nuggets.

    Thanks for sharing


  58. Hi Ed,

    This is a great article. I really appreciate your thoughts about how the mentor mentee relationship should be. One thing thought that sticks in my mind you mentioned about the definition of mentoring is that “mentoring is an ongoing planned partnership to help the mentor reach specific goals over a period of time” instead of short-term. That is so true today. I am an achieving healthcare IT professional aspiring to be mentored by a CIO of a healthcare institution. However, I’ve been having some challenges with finding a program that would offer such CIOs of healthcare institutions and organizations here Chicago that would have the time or who are looking for enthusiastic healthcare IT professionals like myself to be mentored by a CIO.

    Do you still have the one-page mentoring contract and the Golden Nuggets lists that I can use to facilitate mentee and mentor relationships? I am graciously thankful.





Text Ads


Founding Sponsors


Platinum Sponsors



















































Gold Sponsors















Reader Comments

  • Jennifer: I think you are correct that Hyatt is the problem, not OnPeak or HIMSS. We booked rooms at 2 hotels for HIMSS. I notic...
  • Modern CIO: Re: DON With all due respect, get your facts right before lumping those two together. Its clear you don't know Belmo...
  • IANAL: Because he is clearly a good salesman....
  • Don: Ok, here's the truth, Ed Marx and Chris Belmont have probably created some of the biggest disasters in healthcare techno...
  • CovidStopper: Sorry to hear about Cesar Capule in WI. I've worked with many of these traveling Epic "ATE" support folks during implem...

Sponsor Quick Links