Meet Eric Winkfield, public affairs manager at Pepco, an Exelon-owned utility company that provides service to customers in Washington, D.C. and to surrounding communities in Maryland. Eric will receive this year’s Emerging Leader at the ninth annual Milestones in Mentoring gala on Oct. 26.
Eric received his undergraduate degree in PR from Florida A&M University in 2015 and a year later gained a master’s degree in integrated marketing communications from West Virginia University. Following is his Q&A interview with the Plank Center:
What is your role as a mentor?
My role as a mentor is to motivate, educate and inspire individuals to achieve their best outcomes. I don’t believe that one path is the same for all people. People have looked at my life and career and asked “how did I get here?” I’m more interested in helping others to discover their own path and opportunities to help them get their best outcomes.
What inspires/motivates you to mentor?
I have to pay it forward. I have to inspire and motivate others because so many people have invested and poured into my life to help me to get where I am today. I truly believe that there are others coming up behind me who need someone to make that same investment.
What advice would you tell your early-career self with respect to finding a mentor?
I would say that it’s so important to have an open mind. It’s important to be clear in your expectations and make sure you communicate those expectations well. Look for a mentor who is invested in the mentorship relationship. This is not a relationship based on popularity. A mentor has to recognize their mentee’s potential. A mentor has to have what it takes to activate that potential.
What have you found to be the most important key to having a successful mentor/mentee relationship?
The responsibility of the relationship is not all on the mentor. In fact, I’ve found that the best mentor/mentee relationships are not one-way streets. The mentee plays a huge part in the stability and the growth of the relationship. The mentee has to take ownership of the relationship and be dedicated to its success.
How has your mentoring style changed over time?
It’s still developing. In the past, I felt like I had to have all the answers. Today, I help direct individuals to the right answers so they can discover their truth for themselves.
What is one powerful thing you’ve learned from mentoring someone different from you?
I have to have an open mind. I have to understand their experiences will be different than mine.
What top three ways can you mentor our profession’s best and brightest right now so they will be prepared to assume leadership positions in the future?
Our best and brightest will be best served by a mentor who listens and creates an atmosphere where they feel comfortable to share. Mentors should be concerned by intellectual growth – expose mentees to books to mature them for their careers. Mentors should also be tuned it with key networking opportunities to connect mentees to individuals that will help them achieve their goals.
What do you see are the differences between mentorship and sponsorship, and how do you approach each one?
Mentorship is a more intimate relationship. It’s a longer-term relationship to help develop the individual. I believe sponsorship is seeing someone who has potential and providing a resource or opening a door for them.
Summarize your professional career and its high and low points. (How did you work your way up the ladder? How has having a mentor influenced your career path? What have you learned along the way? What factors contributed most to your success?)
My career started with the knowledge that being humble is important. From there, I picked up that learning is a life-long endeavor. Beyond that, I had to understand that I was different and my differences had to make room for me to be great. I learned that recognizing those differences and walking the straight and narrow path to making those differences work for me was not easy. I had to make sure I didn’t view my differences as weaknesses. I also had to learn the best way to deal with all people and their personalities. It was important for me to strike the balance of being an optimist and a realist in dealing with people. Then, I had to understand the importance of recognizing the individuals who are in my corner and those who are not. It was important for me to categorize those individuals. My mentors and sponsors factored into my success. I always focused on the work instead of who saw me doing the work. The work made room for me to move up.
Discuss the importance of diversity and inclusion in the profession, including the best practices you and your team use to develop and implement strategic programs to grow, mentor and retain diverse populations.
I am a proud graduate of the country’s first accredited journalism program at an Historically Black College/University: Florida A&M University (FAMU). My matriculation at FAMU led me to see how important education was to so many minority students. At FAMU, I was introduced to PRSSA, where I was the first black man to hold a national post in the student-organization.
Each of those roles, with an HBCU and with PRSSA, gave me a platform and helped me understand the importance of diversity and inclusion. We need only look to our colleges and organizations like PRSSA to see some of our best and brightest to answer the questions of diversity or inclusion.
There is a myriad of changes around us. What issues have or will become a “wake up call” to the profession?
The profession has a serious need to address inclusion in the workplace. We stress so much about diversity but we do not add equal weight to the conversation of inclusion. That gap will add serious issues of what we will see today and in the future. We claim diversity/inclusion in middle-level management but we don’t see that same impact on the C-suite. Look around corporate America today and ask yourself are those chief officers as diverse as they could be? How do we get ourselves to the space where they are? Diversity and inclusion has to be addressed from the top down. You can’t address the middle and forget the top.
What’s your favorite way to spend a Saturday?
It is definitely with friends exploring the cities we live in, trying out new restaurants and wineries.
Favorite place to vacation and why?
The Bahamas is my favorite vacation place because of the food, festivities and the fun.
My leadership tip is … to be authentic.
My mentorship tip is … look beyond what you see.
Every mentor is… a connector.
Go-to news source… Washington Post.
Lesson that took you the longest to learn… patience.
Habits in your daily routine that strengthen your leadership skills… listening.