At Mentor Collective, we believe the secret to effective networking is paying it forward. Connecting others keeps your network active and, most importantly, helps others connect with the people, ideas and opportunities that help them succeed.
Our work gives us the opportunity to interact with the academics, leaders, and administrators that work tirelessly to understand and improve student outcomes through mentorship. They go by many identities but have one thing in common – the desire to make an impact by challenging the way we think about higher education and the student experience.
We call them Mentorship Champions.
This month we’re pleased to announce our Mentorship Champion as Dr. Lanze Thompson.
Dr. Lanze Thompson recently retired after service as Clark Atlanta University's Executive Vice President, Chief Financial Officer, and Chief Strategy Officer for five years. He is a finance and strategic management executive and board member with over nearly four decades of experience at Fortune 100 companies, including Time Warner/CNN, Ford Motor Company, Alcoa, Con Edison, PSEG, Philip Morris/Kraft Foods, and the Georgia Lottery.
A published author of both fiction and non-fiction, Dr. Thompson's most recent book Black Wounds: The Pains, Scars, and Triumphs of Black America provides a thoughtful and challenging exploration into the toxic realities and systemic barriers facing Black America. His other published works include The Globalization Paradigm, Transcend from Management to Leadership, The Consumer Value Model, and Quarterly Profits Vs. Long-term Strategy, My Humanity, Finding Strength Through Humility; a collection of short stories, Ascend II: From The Hood to The Boardroom, a collection of urban poems, My walk Through the Valley of the Shadow of Death; his faith-based journey battling cancer, and the adventure-filled fictional five-volume series, The Angel Chronicles.
Born in Boston, MA, Dr. Thompson received an MBA from Boston College in Strategic Management and Finance and then later earned his Doctorate in Business from Pace University with concentrations in Global Marketing Strategy and International Business and later.
Prior to his departure at CAU, Dr. Thompson championed mentorship at the leading Historically Black College & University (HBCU) as a means of enhancing the rich culture with this proven student success strategy. In addition to his own experiences with mentorship and what it means to him personally and in practice, Mentor Collective’s Head of Partner Marketing Alexandria Glaize discusses why bringing mentorship to scale was important for the university and for future leaders attending Clark Atlanta.
You can read or listen to Alexandria's interview with Dr. Thompson below:
Alexandria Glaize (AG): What does mentorship mean to you? It means something different to all of us.
Dr. Lanze Thompson (LT): It means taking an interest and caring about somebody else's success. Sharing your knowledge, experience, exposures to them for the purpose of their betterment, development, and success.
AG: That's good!
What advice would you give to someone seeking a mentor or someone who may want to make the most out of their current mentoring relationships?
LT: For someone seeking a mentor, I think you have to have a clarity as to what it is you're seeking assistance in or direction in. Sometimes mentorship is perceived as a passive one-way relationship where someone comes in to mentor you, and you just download a bunch of knowledge. They give you the secret ingredients to being successful. That's not usually how it works, you have to have a clear understanding of what it is you want, where you’re going, what your goals are, what skills and preparedness you already bring to the table, and any gaps where additional knowledge would benefit you. Then you’re seeking assistance from someone who is very directed in filling in areas of deficiency. You’re making sure you're partnering or aligning with someone who is truly going to help move you forward.
I use a lot of sports analogies. So from a sports perspective, if I've got a great jump shot it doesn't make sense for me to get a mentor who's going to help me with jump shots. What I really need to learn is how to dribble with my left hand, so it makes sense for me to find someone who's going to be someone who's going to help fill in that area and bring up my overall skill set. Sometimes we go with people who we’re comfortable with, but you need to get out of your comfort zone and say I need someone who can really teach me how to dribble with my left hand. Of course, I use that sports analogy, but that could be true in life, in school, in your career as well. Find that thing where you’re falling short and just need more exposure.
AG: I love that. I think a major theme here is intentionality, right? Intentionality and clarity from the beginning. The latter piece of what you said is important: Understanding what you want from a mentorship relationship from the beginning and finding someone who can help upskill or nurture you. I think that’s important. Oftentimes what we see is folks seeking mentorships with people who make them comfortable where they are currently. I think that’s really good advice.
And what would you say to someone who wants to make the most out of a current mentoring relationship?
LT: I think you have to be persistent in evaluating the growth of the mentorship relationship. Are you moving forward and moving upward in that relationship? Whether it's personal development or professional development or spiritual development. Understanding that the relationship shouldn't be stagnant, you know? Going back to my analogy, I needed to learn how to dribble with my left hand. If I've now learned that – but I stay with the mentor who continues to teach me how to dribble with my left hand – that's keeping me from moving on to learning how to play better defense. So I need to make sure that I'm understanding my own growth and development and aligning mentors who are consistent with those new skills, or my evolving skill-sets and needs. Sometimes we have a relationship, and we think that's the relationship for life and it's different. Relationships are great. You can have a relationship with someone for one year, 5 years, 10 years, 20 years, but mentorships are very specific. You have to maintain the purpose – it’s here to help me develop and evolve. If the relationship with this particular mentor has lived out its usefulness to do that, I can keep a relationship but I need to find a mentorship that now fills in the next level of skills that I need to develop.
AG: That’s really solid advice. I’m going to take that for myself. I don’t think we talk about that enough. How do you close out mentorship/partnerships/relationships in a way that is honorable to what it was but acknowledge that it’s shifting. Thinking about this just from your individual experience:
How has the power of mentorship shown up in your life?
LT:I would say very early on in my academic life when I went to Colby College. I was at a predominately white institution, going into an environment that was foreign to me – where I didn't feel comfortable, people didn't look like me, didn't come for my background, didn't have my same culture.
A professor in my writing class kind of took me in. Even to this day, I still talk about him, and I honor him, because he let me know what I bring to the table is just as valuable as what anyone else brings to the table. He gave me a sense of confidence that I belonged. As simple as that. He gave me that sense of courage to say: ‘Maintain your own voice. You were brought here for a reason, you’ve been successful in high school. You were accepted into this school, because you bring something to the table. Don't try to assimilate so much that you lose your authenticity.’ He really helped instill that in me – to be comfortable in a different environment, maintain my sense of confidence of who I was and maintain that sense of individuality. That's who God created me to be. He didn’t create me to be melded and molded into somebody else.
Don't forget your uniqueness. That's your strength and that's really your advantage that you have in this life. My mentor really helped me understand that.
Going into my professional career, my mentors were senior, upper-level managers who just helped me see the ropes. What a good presentation entailed, how to be succinct, how to be on point, how to make sure you knew your audience, how to make sure you spoke clearly and with confidence. How to make sure that you integrate different types of vehicles into your presentation for people who are very visual. They helped me understand what some of the requirements were and that it wasn’t one-size-fits-all. And then talking to me, just letting me know there was someone who had been successful in this organization who is sharing the path that they had taken, or the things they had navigated successfully to get where they are. They helped me look upward and see a position that I could strive for, and it wasn't so intimidating and overwhelming. He did it one step at a time, then one assignment at a time, and so, too, could I.
AG: That’s important. Both examples you shared reminded me of the simplicity of the long game and how important it is to create a sense of belonging and to know I'm worthy to be in that space/environment. Wherever I want to go, I am also worthy of that. Belonging is a central piece of that. So powerful.
What makes you want to champion mentorship?
LT: I spent a lot of my career accumulating knowledge, accumulating experiences, accumulating successes. At some point in time you realize that there’s a balance that goes with it. Accumulate, then it comes a time when you need to be someone who is sharing, giving back. Taking all that you have learned. That’s what we do in life.
People don't realize that they’ve accumulated as much as they have. That anyone could be a mentor at any point time. There’s not some magic time period or some magic successful or some magic position that you reach, but it's just that you are now willing to share what you have learned. Now that I have learned so much – or certain things that I think are of value or interest to a target group – where my specific learning is applicable to someone’s future development. No matter what color they are, my experience can be applicable to helping them navigate the expectations.
Mentorship, and the information shared through a mentorship, should be something very specific, very directed, and something useful for the mentee. Whether it’s to get through college, to get into college, to get a particular job, to move up in a corporation, to move up in a particular field. There should be a very specific end goal in mind.
AG: Just before your retirement you championed bringing large-scale mentorship to Clark Atlanta.
What priorities led you to invest in a large-scale mentorship program? I know CAU had pockets of mentorship, but what was the thing that said, you know what, we wanted to invest in this in a large-scale mentorship program?
LT: We talk about the HBCU experience, come here and get that experience that you can't get elsewhere. That's fine, and I think that has value. That has a place, but I think somewhere along the line you have to also augment that with student success. How do we make these students successful and not just have a memorable experience over their 4-5 years in college? How do we prepare them for their future? How do we prepare them to be future leaders? Whatever their field is, how do we prepare them to be the next leaders in those fields? And what does it take to arm them with the ammunition that's going to give them the best foot forward. Some of that is mentorship and the sharing of knowledge and information from successful professionals who have learned from their own mistakes or have already gone down that road. Some of it’s going to be from folks who have accumulated a certain amount of knowledge in the world and now they're willing to part that on you because they recognize that one hand reaches back and pulls the other forward. They see that as their own personal mission.
It’s really just focusing on student success as opposed to just the experience. So while the experience is really important – and it's what gives you confidence and a sense of belonging – we need to also augment that with student success to prepare students for what they’re going to do, and where they’re going after you leave here.
AG: That's pretty powerful, and I think that’s something that we hear often. Mentorship is a high-impact student success practice, and oftentimes, the struggle with universities is how do you scale that. Also, how do you provide the training for these mentoring relationships to be successful? What you said earlier was mentoring requires skills. It requires intentionality. We think that mentorship is just in a relationship; even from the mentors standpoint. No, you have to have the skills to be a successful mentor. That’s one of the things I love about Mentor Collective, is that we provide that training, but then also the additional training for the mentee that says, here’s how you get the most out of your mentoring relationship, too.
LT: I think that’s very important because there are things that you could do on your own, but just like anything else, when you're serious about something you invest in it. You bring the right professionals, the right expertise, the right infrastructure, the right commitment to it. I played football in college and had a very structured program, but there was also the intramural program. You could go out, and you could toss a football around on the lawn and have a pickup game, and you could have fun doing that. To be a competitive team on the field and play against other Universities, however, you had spring training, you had weight development, you had nutritional programs, you had practice, you had film sessions, you had recruitment, you had professional coaches. That's the difference. When you prepare someone to be successful at the highest competitive level, you make an investment in the infrastructure and the resources to do so. If you want to go out and have fun and throw the ball around and end up with what you end up, that’s not how you’re successful in making something that's sustainable and of its highest impact. So I see Mentor Collective being in that category of being very determined, specific and directed at bringing the right resources, skill levels and professionals together to take us from an intramural activity to something that's really professional and driven.
AG: That’s powerful; I love that entire analogy. I'm probably going to share that in conversation because one thing we hear from many leaders at different institutions across the country is that mentorship already exists. Yes, mentorship exists but it exists in pockets, and sometimes it's very organic. The intentionality to make sure that you're driving impact isn't there. How are you measuring success? How are you ensuring these students in these mentoring relationships are thriving? I just love that you addressed bringing formalized structure to scale the impacts of these amazing, oftentimes small, mentorship programs. I think that will resonate with a lot of leaders. When I hear folks have that revelation, it’s almost like an aha moment. There's much more impact we could have if we just had the support to make that happen. To that end, I’m glad to be a part of Mentor Collective because, in most ways, that’s how we can help institutions scale the impact of what they do.
Reach out to Alexandria Glaize at firstname.lastname@example.org to submit your nomination and help us uplift the work of extraordinary individuals.
Want to learn about previous Mentorship Champions? Check out our previous honorees below!