Next Up Podcast: Cultivating a strong mentor/mentee relationship with Anthony Ashby
Hello and welcome to Modern Healthcare’s Next Up, the podcast for women who are emerging healthcare leaders. My name is Kadesha Smith. I’m your host and I am also the CEO of CareContent, a digital strategy agency for healthcare organizations.
We talk a lot on Next Up about mentorship, and much of the focus is on those in leadership positions. But today we’re talking about the mentee and their role in the relationship, particularly how to be a productive mentee.
As an aspiring healthcare leader, a mentor helps avoid the trial-and-error that can make your journey longer. It’s also a way to avoid what people call the “stupid tax” — paying money, time, embarrassment for things simply because you didn’t know any better.
Many of you listening are past the beginner stage. You’re eyeing a higher level of leadership, plus you’re probably balancing family responsibilities.
I honestly think this stage begs for a mentor more than any other because the decisions you make right now are so high stakes. You have more to lose if you exercise poor judgment, and you can’t bounce back like you’re a rookie.
But being a good mentee requires a specific mindset and putting yourself out there. There’s a certain way to cultivate this relationship, so it’s valuable to both you and your mentor.
In this episode, we turn to an expert in mentorship, Anthony Ashby. He’s the Vice President & Chief Operating Officer of CHI Health. CHI Health in Nebraska is a part of CommonSpirit Health, which serves 21 states with its more than 700 care locations and 142 hospitals. Prior to this role, Anthony served as Director of Operations at Baylor Scott & White Health.
SPONSOR MESSAGE: Before we get into our discussion, I’d like to acknowledge OnTrak, the sponsor of this episode.
Ontrak is a behavioral healthcare company that identifies people who need more care and treats them for up to 52 weeks. With therapist-led care, members return to health. Payers get a return on investment.
Learn more, save more, help more at ontrak-inc.com.
MODERN HEALTHCARE: Now, let’s dive into our conversation with Anthony Ashby. And he’s sharing his insight on mentorship — and how to effectively cultivate this critical relationship as the mentee.
MODERN HEALTHCARE: Hello, Anthony. How are you doing today?
ANTHONY ASHBY: I am pretty good. How are you?
MODERN HEALTHCARE: I’m doing really, really well. Thank you so much for making time. Thank you for agreeing to talk about this topic. I think a lot of people, after COVID, are kind of reevaluating the direction they want to go in their career, and a mentor is probably one of the key elements to doing that. So, before we dive into questions, I’m just going to read a couple of data points that tell us a little bit about the landscape of this topic.
Number one is that 70% of Fortune 500 companies offer professional mentorship programs. In a 2019 study of 3,000 professionals — this was published in Forbes as well — 76% of respondents believed that mentors were important, yet only 37% of people actually have one. And lastly, the American Medical Women’s Association cites effective mentorship as one of the most important determinants of career success.
ANTHONY ASHBY: It’s kind of like a professional playground. It gives you a safe space to learn, and have a sounding board to think out loud with somebody who’s kind of been there, done that and can offer some advice from their experience. An objective third party that potentially doesn’t work at your organization, might work in a different sector within healthcare that could offer some fresh perspective. It’s huge to be able to have a mentor and have an opportunity to be mentored or to be a mentor. Recently, I was just introduced to this acronym, which I think defines professional development. It’s PIE: Performance, Image, and Exposure.
The idea is that your performance in your job only represents about 10% of your career growth. The other pieces of that are your image, so what people think of you — they’re a hard worker, they’re a problem solver. The last piece is exposure. So, building on that, maybe you have a good image, but then only three people in your department know about you. How do you get more of your image out there? And I think that’s a lesser known concept. So, a lot of people that are looking to grow, a lot of people look for getting multiple master’s degrees and PhDs. And you know, all those things are great, but doing your job and getting certifications is only going to get you so far. So, it’s really that image piece and that exposure that help you build your brand, and I think mentorship really helps with that.
MODERN HEALTHCARE: That’s a really good framework to look forward. It’s also a really good framework for selecting your mentor. So, you’re Chief Operating Officer, so you’ve had that journey to the C-suite. Can you talk about the times when you think it’s most important to have a mentor. I mean, there’s times when you’re probably negotiating salary. You’re probably growing your team and managing people. Can you think about the times on your way to the C-suite when you think it’s most important to have a mentor?
ANTHONY ASHBY: Most often, it usually comes up when you’re kind of stuck. So, whether you’re working on a project or there’s some kind of barrier you’re running into with a professional relationship — and maybe the politics at work and things like that you’d like some advice on. But for me personally, what I can remember is, I’ve been laid off before, actually twice. That was really a kind of soul searching experience for me. I think it was most crucial for me to have a mentor at the time to really balance my thoughts off of.
You know, reassess are there things I’m doing wrong? Are there things that I couldn’t control that are just, kind of the nature of the beast? And, you know, talking those things through with somebody. Being able to connect with somebody I used to work with very closely in the consulting field and hearing his thoughts and providing advice. And then also from a job search perspective and being really well-connected and, you know, understanding different sectors within healthcare and kind of where parts of the sectors are going and what people are looking for in certain roles. I think that was really, really helpful at that time because sitting with your own thoughts can get really stagnant.
MODERN HEALTHCARE: Yeah.
ANTHONY ASHBY: It can be depressing and deflating, so having somebody there to offer perspectives and ideas can really be energizing in times like that.
MODERN HEALTHCARE: Absolutely. So, our focus is really on the mentee’s role in cultivating that mentorship relationship, and a big part of that is picking the people that you want to be your mentors. My sense is that we first look for mentorship from people who look like us because it’s more comfortable, right? Like women tend to reach out to other women, people of color tend to reach out to other people of color. What are your thoughts on that? Is that a good thing? Is that limiting? Does it matter as long as the person has expertise? What are your thoughts?
ANTHONY ASHBY: There’s value in all of that and then it is also very limiting, too. So, we shouldn’t limit ourselves to only have one mentor. I mean, it is a very loose term. There’s formal programs where it’s like a year, you meet once a month. And then it’s just maybe, you develop an organic relationship with somebody and you only touch base every once in a while — you text each other, call each other when something happens, type of thing. So, I think all of those different factors play into the selection piece.
I definitely think it’s important, though, as somebody that’s underrepresented in your field — whether it be by gender or race or whatever — to actually have somebody that reflects that same underrepresentation that you do. Because it’s a different perspective, and they’ll be able to share some insights that some others might not be able to. But it’s also important to expand beyond that. One, because being underrepresented, there’s not a ton of people like you in the industry to be able to select from, from a mentor perspective. But then, the people you work with are very diverse. They look like you, they don’t look like you, different backgrounds. So, it’s important to get those perspectives from those other people that you’ll encounter in the workplace. Having both is super important.
MODERN HEALTHCARE: I realized that when I got into healthcare, I would have to cultivate mentors that didn’t look like me.
ANTHONY ASHBY: Yeah.
MODERN HEALTHCARE: If I were only going to stick with women and if I were only going to stick with people of color, I’d have a very limited pool to select from.
MID-SPONSOR MESSAGE: Before we continue our discussion, I’d like to again recognize Ontrak, the sponsor of today’s episode.
With just 5% of people accounting for 44% of healthcare costs, Ontrak identifies and treats those people for up to 52 weeks. With this unique sort of support, your members can achieve true behavior change and better health that can last a lifetime.
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Now, let’s get back to our discussion.
MODERN HEALTHCARE: Do you recommend having mentors for different types of guidance? And let me give you an example. I have a mentor that’s kind of like a mom mentor. I have a gardening mentor. I have business mentors. I have mentors for basically any skill gap that I identify. What’s your recommendation in the professional setting? Does it make sense to have different mentors for different types of guidance, or just have one or two in general and cultivate those relationships?
ANTHONY ASHBY: I think it definitely makes sense to have different mentors for different things. One, because healthcare is so complex. I mean, just even somebody with 20, 30 years of experience — they still have probably a fairly limited perspective of healthcare. Because you’re usually put into some kind of niche where you’re in supply chain or you’re in operations or you deal with surgery. Or you deal with the insurance side, so people develop sub expertise within healthcare. So, you’re not exposed to kind of a full gambit. So, as you’re looking to grow and develop, having perspectives from outside in different areas of healthcare that are kind of tangential to you are really important to be able to cultivate and grow your professional background.
MODERN HEALTHCARE: Is your mentorship, those examples you mentioned, is that something where that person would describe themselves as your mentor or that’s just kind of how you’ve defined that relationship?
Nobody on this podcast has asked me a question. So, yes I typically tell them, “I want you to mentor me in this area because I want to reach this goal in this amount of time.”
ANTHONY ASHBY: Yeah. Defining it is very helpful. Between mentoring and networking, it’s very much like dating. It could be very awkward, you’re like approaching people. What is this, who are we? Do we have a title? Do we not have a title? We talk a lot, but what does that really mean? So, I like your framework of a specific season, three months — this is what I’m trying to do. I also think there’s opportunity for more organic conversation and I think that’s one of the things — being a mentee is, being self-aware of what you want out of it.
I think it’s fine to want something specifically, but I also think it’s fine to be clear like, “Hey I don’t really know what I want. I’m trying to learn. I’m new to the industry. I don’t really know much. I appreciate time to kind of talk to you to hear your journey and share my thoughts, and then that would help give me some guidance to then work on something specific.”
So, like for example, through NAHSE, National Association of Health Services Executives, there’s a formal mentorship program. There’s two models. You kind of start with the GROW model where it’s Goal, Reality, Options, Will. So that’s more like that brainstorming phase of, what do you want to do? Where are you at right now? What could you do? What are all the options? And then, this is what I think I should do, and then moving down to, kind of, that SMART goals piece.
MODERN HEALTHCARE: So, let’s talk a little bit more then about the general mentor. Where maybe you don’t have a specific goal or timeframe, but you know they have a ton of expertise in your field that is going to be helpful to you in some way. And I love that you compared it to dating because it does feel like that. So, how do you select that person? And then, what does that initial outreach look like?
ANTHONY ASHBY: I encourage people to reach out more organically like that and actually approach people. I think LinkedIn makes it fairly easy to do that. And I think some people are shy about it, but that’s what people are on there for. I’m pretty sure most of the people you reach out to, you’re not going to be the first person that’s inquired with them. I think that’s the easy way to approach things. Engaging in that social way — liking, following, sharing, commenting — doing those kinds of things and then, you know, messaging potentially. You might want to pick somebody to be your mentor just off their resume, which probably isn’t the best idea. But you at least pick somebody where you think like, hey let me talk to them and see what the vibe is. If we kind of are on the same page with things. If, you know, we think this might work and then kind of go from there.
I think the easiest way to start though is probably a formal mentorship. Somebody is connecting you, there’s specific goals. There’s all those kinds of parameters and timelines, and structures are already laid out for you. You both understand it through the process. So, you know after you do that, I mean, I think you should feel free to just reach out to people and just start talking to people. And being really clear attracts people to want to learn more about you as well. So, I think the more upfront you can be in being clear about sharing your story and your goals and your passions and what you want to do to help others, will naturally attract other people to you to learn more from you and then can turn into more relationships that way.
MODERN HEALTHCARE: Yeah. Earlier I said that only 37% of the 3,000 people that responded to that study published in Forbes said they had a mentor, even though they believed it was important. 76% believed it was important, 37% actually had one. To your point of doing that initial outreach, you let them know your goals. You let them know why their expertise is interesting to you. And let’s say they say yes. What are the top three things a mentee should do to cultivate this relationship and make it productive?
ANTHONY ASHBY: There’s several things — one of them, being very genuine and personable. I think sometimes it can be very robotic, where you’re reaching out and it’s like, you really just want a reference for something, or you want some kind of clear handoff or transaction. Which is fine, but I think just being clear and upfront of like, “This is what I’m looking for.” People can tell if you have ulterior motives. Don’t guise a mentorship relationship with, “Oh yeah, by the way I have this scholarship I’m trying to get.” After one conversation without prefacing with that. So, it’s fine to want something transactional, but just be upfront about it.
Going back to that clarity piece — being clear where you are. Is there something specific you want and, you know, how can you articulate that? And if there’s not, how can you still kind of frame where you want to go? And be self-aware in terms of understanding what you’ve been through, what you’re looking to do. To really kind of help the mentor help you. Sometimes people may get into a mentorship relationship as the mentee and kind of want to take a backseat and just feel like the mentor is going to be the one just providing information. And they’re just going to give you all the connections and then going do it for you. But it’s really more of a two-way relationship. But to your point earlier, I think it’s really upon the mentee. Especially if you reached out to really initiate that and have a clear picture of questions, so that you — you know, you’ve done your research. You looked into their background, where they work, and quote specific examples of different things you’re looking to learn or looking to gather from them.
Lastly, I would say do your research. I really look for people that are kind of like students of the industry. There’s certain things as a mentee where you’re looking to get information because you don’t know it already. But there’s several things that you can do on your own to kind of start to gather information and doing that, I think, is essential. And I think that really shows well to a mentor, this person is listening to podcasts. And they’re reading different leadership books, and they’re up on different industry publications and gathering information where they can. So they’re already kind of halfway there. It’s not like you’re coming in cold. You’ve never looked up anything before and you’re just expecting me to give you information.
MODERN HEALTHCARE: Right.
ANTHONY ASHBY: It’s like, what have you already tried on your own first? Where we can kind of build from that as opposed to like starting from ground zero. So like, just being passionate about the field, and then just being a student of the industry. That’s an ongoing thing for both sides, mentor or mentee.
MODERN HEALTHCARE: Thank you so much for sharing this insight. I hope that, you know, we can turn around some of these numbers, especially for people who are underrepresented in the field of healthcare. And reach out to those folks who are experts — whether they look like us or not — to help us get where we ultimately want to end up.
ANTHONY ASHBY: Yeah, most definitely. Thank you.
OUTRO COMMENTS: Thank you, Anthony Ashby, for that insight on how to be a productive mentee.
We’d also like to again thank this episode’s sponsor, Ontrak.
Again, I’m your host, Kadesha Smith, CEO of CareContent. We help health systems reach their target audiences through digital marketing that focuses on the right content.
Look for more episodes of Next Up at modernhealthcare.com/podcasts, or subscribe at Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or your preferred podcatcher. Thank you for listening