Your Married Boyfriend Isn’t Your Mentor: The Right and Wrong Way to Take Someone Under Your Wing

November 27, 2012  |  

In the latest news out of the Gen. David Petraeus adultery scandal, the woman who started this whole mess, Jill Kelley, the “Florida socialite,” is being stripped of an honorary consul position that she was given in South Korea for no apparent reason.

“Kelley will lose that designation after a New York businessman accused her of trying to use the honorary title to solicit business, Deputy Foreign Minister Kim Kyou-hyun told the semi-official South Korean news agency Yonhap,” CNN reports. (Here’s a chart of who’s who and what’s what, in case you need it for reference.) It was a title that gave Kelley no power. Still, apparently tried to milk it for all it was worth.

Obviously, this is a woman who needs an ethics class. Or maybe she needs a mentor; someone to guide her in the ways of right and wrong when trying to climb the ladder to success. (She probably just needs the class.) Interestingly — or even more tawdry, depending on your perspective — Paula Broadwell was not just Petraeus’ mistress and biographer. He was also her mentor. What a tangled web we weave…

The Daily Beast’s Michael Moynihan asks why a woman like Paula Broadwell would even need a mentor. She’s an athlete, has a Master’s degree (she was kicked out of Harvard while trying to get a second one), a graduate of West Point, and a published author who thought of making a political run in North Carolina.

“Despite this rather impressive résumé, Broadwell decided she needed career guidance from the man tasked with executing the troop surge in Iraq and commanding American forces in Afghanistan,” the article says. After calling out a few weird mentoring pairings (Madonna and Gwyneth Paltrow) and some examples of mentoring gone bad, he highlights the number of books on the shelves these days, talking up the benefits of mentoring.

“Apparently, everyone has a mentor these days,” the author writes.

Mentoring is a topic we’ve tackled on the pages of Madame Noire Business, with sources talking about the positive experiences they’ve had on both sides of the mentoring equation. “I decided to be a mentor because I saw early on the benefits of my peers and the deficit I suffered by not having a mentor in my field. I saw that it provided many opportunities for networking and introductions to others in their chosen field,” Dr. Teresa Taylor Williams told us at the time.

Among the many things we glean from the Petraeus situation are lessons in how to be a proper mentor. A mentor is a person that someone respects, usually an older person who has moved along in their career, or achieved something that the mentee would someday like to accomplish. In that sense, Petraeus fits the bill.

Some of the mentors we interviewed also provide an apprentice-like opportunity for the people they work with, giving someone who’s just starting out the chance to get hands-on experience and personalized attention. A mentor should also be a conduit to the VIPs that a newbie should know. There’s a bit of elbow-rubbing involved, but it also offers the truly talented a chance to get to know the pros who open doors so talent can be realized.

A mentor isn’t your boyfriend or the person you’re sleeping with. He or she isn’t someone that exchanges information and opportunity for favors of any kind. And it isn’t someone who gives themselves the title so their conscious feels a little better about all the crooked crap they’re doing. A mentor is a person that you can trust; who’s helping because they see the spark in you and wants it to grow. And in so doing is actually doing a service for the industry they work in or the wider world that will be influenced by their mentee. So Paula Broadwell didn’t have a mentor with Gen. Petraeus. She had a roll in the hay and heap of trouble.

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