Some Thoughts on Networking and Mentoring
By Paula D. Gordon, Ph.D.
Networking and Networking Skills
Networking skills can of course be used for good or ill, for high- or low-minded purposes. My initial focus here will be on kinds of networking skills that might be used by those who serve in government and the public service.
The most extraordinary and admirable individuals whom I have known in government and the public service have all been consummate "networkers". These individuals have shared certain similar attributes. First and foremost, none of them has been driven by narrow self-interests. In addition, they have all been skilled questioners and attentive listeners.
Individuals in roles of public responsibility, including the most consummate networkers, may use networking skills for a very wide range of purposes. These can include the following:
~ Obtaining information, acquiring and expanding knowledge, and gaining insight and understanding;
~ Making contacts that initiate or strengthen relationships, alliances, partnerships, or coalitions;
~ Helping people establish connections between and among others who have similar concerns or interests;
~ Identifying and taking advantage of opportunities to make the fullest possible use of their own talents, skills, and capabilities and to help others similarly make the best possible use of theirs.
The most outstanding networkers are able to use their skills to solve problems and address challenges. Those who excel at networking are able to get on top of problems faster than those lacking networking skills. Individuals who have outstanding networking skills are in the best possible position to acquire information quickly, increase their understanding, expand their contacts and networks, and take steps to accomplish tasks or to address problems, threats, and challenges.
Networking at its best involves communication, education, and continuous learning. Networking skills that are used in the service of the public interest can play a most significant role in the realization of the potential of government and the public service as forces for good in the nation and the world.
The Key Role That Networking Can Play in Mentoring Relationships
In the late '60's, I was a graduate student at the University of California at Berkeley. (I would later finish a doctorate in public administration at American University in Washington.) Gerald Caiden, a professor of mine at U.C. Berkeley, had introduced me to Harry Wolf, the Director of the Federal Executive Seminar Center that was located at the time in Berkeley.
I also met Bob Wynia, one of the staff at the Center. When I met him, Bob had recently returned from Washington where he had worked on the staff of the Grace Commission. When he heard that I would be going to Washington for six-week stay to talk with people in government, he strongly urged me to try to meet Roger Jones. I followed Bob Wynia's advice and was successful in getting in to meet Roger Jones. [For those who may not know of Roger Jones, he had served as Chairman of the Civil Service Commission in the Eisenhower Administration and held high-level appointments at the State Department and the Bureau of the Budget, and later the Office of Management and Budget. The Federal Executive Institute and the Federal Executive Seminar Centers were among his many legacies.]
During my first meeting with Roger Jones, I told him of the work that I was doing on the drug abuse problem. While a student at Berkeley, I had launched a non-profit organization that focused on addressing the drug problem among youth. In fact the purpose of that six-week visit to Washington was to talk with Federal officials who had responsibilities for addressing the drug problem. At the time, I was also considering writing my dissertation on Federal drug prevention efforts. I used the meetings with Federal officials in part to impress upon them the fact that the problem was spreading among younger populations.
From the beginning, Roger served as an invaluable sounding board and gave me the benefit of his wisdom and years of experience. At the end of our first meeting, I asked him if I could come back from time to time and talk with him. He graciously said that that would be fine.
I came to look upon Roger as the embodiment of everything that anyone could ever aspire to in the public service. He was an individual of unquestionable integrity and unsurpassed dedication to public service. I know of no one who ever had a lesser opinion of him.
Indeed, in the late '70s, I had mentioned to Morris Collins, a contemporary and long-time friend of Roger's, that if there were such a thing as reincarnation, that surely Roger Jones was the reincarnation of George Washington. Without missing a beat, Morris Collins said, "No! George Washington wasn't half the man that Roger Jones is!"
Many years later, in one of the last conversations I was to have with Roger in 1993, I shared with him the gist of my conversation with Morris Collins. Roger, beyond flattery, was simply amused, in part, I think because I had waited over fifteen years to share this story with him.
Because of Roger, I was invited to stand for election to the ASPA National Capitol Area Chapter Council in the early '70s. Serving on the Council led to all kinds of other important connections for me. Roger also opened other doors that made it possible for me to participate in an extraordinarily full way in the world of government and public service. He made it possible for me to meet and get to know some of the most memorable and admirable individuals I have known, including Don Stone, Dwight Waldo, and more recently, after Roger's death, Harlan Cleveland. I have gained immeasurably from knowing all of these individuals.
Roger became a most trusted friend and counselor. He even served on my doctoral committee when I finished my doctorate at American University in Washington, D.C. in 1975.
From the beginning Roger had helped me understand how out of touch many in Washington could be when it came to understanding the problems and challenges facing the nation. He urged me to stick by my principles and be true to my convictions and understanding.
To me, Roger Jones personified the standard by which those in the government service can "true" themselves. In writing this article, I realize more than ever before how fortunate I was to have had him as a mentor and a friend. I realize, too, the great debt of thanks I owe Gerald Caiden and Bob Wynia. I realize as well the extraordinary roles that mentors can play in keeping alive the invaluable legacy that we have all inherited.