MBA Reflections Part 3: More Than Mentoring

Mustafa Husaini, MD, FACC

"A good mentor hopes you will move on," Higgins tells Keeley. "A great mentor knows you will." – Ted Lasso S02E12

The term "mentor" is thought to have originated from Homer's Odysseus when Athena appears to Odysseus's son Telemachus in the form of an old family friend, "Mentor." Athena then was able to offer him support and guidance through his father's absence. Similarly, support and guidance are vitally important to our careers, but the source is not always readily apparent.

It is imperative to have both mentorship and sponsorship in our careers. A mentor gives advice to the protégé, answers questions, and helps strategize career moves and professional development. A sponsor helps promote a protégé to others by investing their political capital to advance the protégé's career. Most relationships start with mentorship before growing into sponsorship. Analogous to the importance of understanding definitions and nomenclate in medicine, a better understanding of career development (beyond mentoring) is imperative to our personal growth.

Define What You Need

Like most good advice, the first thing is to figure out your "why." To grow beyond the traditional mentoring framework, figure out your purpose and define what you need. In my view, there are three core needs early in our career:

  1. Problem Solving
  2. Information
  3. Sponsorship

One of my mentors told me, "No more mentoring… the goal of our conversations should be to solve a problem" that I am having, not simply to "have a mentor meeting." These defined, problem-based conversations make the process more efficient, and help transform networking into a form of giving. Information is another key need where mentors serve as information-brokers. Early in our careers, there are both "known unknowns" and "unknown unknowns" which mentors can help distinguish and eventually uncover. Finally, transforming a mentor into a sponsor is a prize which takes time to develop. One needs to be able to successfully deliver in a way that enables them the confidence and trust for future sponsorship.

It Takes a Village

Assigned mentors are a structured form of support where it takes more work to cultivate the relationship and determine if the ingredients are there for success. Organic support is often better, but harder to cultivate, as the senior person must see potential and mutual benefit, and the junior person sees a true role model. More importantly, however, is the combination of the right people at the right time for the right reasons. In other words, it's imperative to identify and ask individuals that can support you in different domains (internal vs. external, field-specific vs. adjacent-field and more). For example, a strategic approach enables you to obtain counseling and feedback about confidential internal matters while also gaining knowledge about the external environment. A mix of mentors facilitates multiple flows of information and guidance to answer the correct questions at the correct time.

Few senior-level people have the time or range of expertise to serve as a solo mentor. Thus, having a team of people enables specificity in strategy, content, purpose and growth. A launch team is led by a primary mentor who is most responsible for a mentee's success and growth. It has a collaborative and diverse mix of individuals with content experts relevant to your area of focus and career strategy. The launch team is there to help achieve short-term milestones by meeting at regular intervals and having a limited, two to three year lifespan. A cruise team ensures that progress continues and the individual is on track for promotion. It often needs new expertise which typically involves more visible experts as well as some new voices to replace members of the launch team. This is also the point in an individual's career where the mentee can transform into a mentor by joining other launch teams. Finally, the boost team exists to prevent the individual's career from plateauing. Novel leadership and career goals need to be defined, and a trajectory to achieve them needs to be articulated. The boost team often pushes the individual to the boundaries of their comfort zone.

Ongoing Challenges

In addition to a better understanding of world outside of mentorship, there are other ongoing challenges. There remains a generational gap which often leads to frustration, miscommunication and attrition. As Gurpreet Dhaliwal, MD, writes, this if often worsened by a "dysfunctional culture rooted in widespread disrespect… where generational stereotypes and unfounded criticisms about trainees do nothing but foster a culture of disrespect among physicians." By defining what you need, utilizing strategic relationships and understanding your goals, you can move beyond traditional mentoring to create a fulfilling career.


  1. Inverting the Pyramid of Success (Season 2, Episode 12) [TV series episode], Ted Lasso. Apple & Warner Brothers. 2021, October 8.
  2. Chopra V, Saint S. 6 Things Every Mentor Should Do. Harvard Business Review. March 29, 2017.
  3. Ibarra H. How to Do Sponsorship Right. Harvard Business Review. November-December 2022.
  4. Clark D. Your Career Needs Many Mentors, Not Just One. Harvard Business Review. January 19, 2017.
  5. Chopra V, Dimick JB, Saint S. Making Mentorship a Team Effort. Harvard Business Review. March 17, 2020.  
  6. Dhaliwal G. A Piece of My Mind: The Greatest Generation. JAMA. 2015 Dec 8;314(22):2353-4.
  7. Waljee JF, Chopra V, Saint S. Mentoring Millennials. JAMA. 2020 May 5;323(17):1716-1717.
Mustafa Husaini, MD, FACC

This article was authored by Mustafa Husaini, MBA, MD, FACC, an assistant professor at Washington University in St. Louis with editorial assistance by Mohamed Esmail, CFP. Husaini graduated from the executive MBA program at Olin Business school within Washington University in St. Louis and is a member of ACC's Sports and Exercise Cardiology and CV Management Section Leadership Councils.

This article is in memory of his daughter, Aliza, who was born at the start of his MBA and died a few months before graduation. Social Media: @husainim.

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