Tips and Tools from a Career Mentor

None of us gets to “the mountain top” alone. Along with determination and effort, success in any measure often comes with guidance from someone invested in seeing us achieve. We call some of these helpers “mentors.”

Garfield Bowen is one such mentor. He has helped dozens of colleagues and friends achieve their dreams throughout his 23-year career in software engineering, project management, operations management, quality management, Lean Six Sigma and, now, research and development. 

“It just seems natural to want the best for the people working alongside me,” says Bowen. “Whether it’s an individual who reports directly to me or someone in my professional network, I have an affinity for helping people do and be their best.”

A senior leader at 3M Corporation, Bowen serves on the advisory board of the College of Continuing and Professional Studies (CCAPS), which guides CCAPS’ portfolio of professional development courses and certificates. He also developed and teaches courses for the U of M’s Project Management Certificate

Bowen says mentoring starts with relationships. 

“One of my first projects was to design and develop a system for university student recruiting and management. My team included data entry analysts and I made sure I invested the time to get to know each person, at work and outside of work. I got to understand their passions and what they aspired to,” he says.

“One of the best data entry analysts on my team aspired to someday be an executive assistant. While I would need to figure out a replacement strategy, it was more important to leverage my network to get her that role within a few months. She has now risen to be a faculty administrator and I am so proud that I enabled her to get one step closer to maximizing her potential and tapping into her passion.”

To gain insight into how leaders inspire and guide others, we talked with Bowen about leadership and mentoring.

Garfiel Bowen sitting, facing the camera, holding a sheet of paper
Garfield Bowen

How do you spot leadership ability in others?

Someone who has leadership ability wants to grow and develop their expertise. They’re inquisitive and go above and beyond their assigned duties. They are often over-performers and think about what’s best for the team as well as what’s good for their own careers. 

When I was leading a project for the U’s Office of the Vice President for Research, a member of my project team (not a direct report) wanted to do more than maintain websites. He became my mentee and from there I connected him with some job shadowing assignments which allowed him to explore another career of interest. He eventually got the U's Business Analysis Certificate and became a business analyst.

What’s more important, ability to make decisions or delegation and empowerment?

These are both very important. Leaders will know when to delegate and empower the team while at the same time knowing when to make decisions to help the team achieve the goals set forth. That said, decision-making is critical. You’re not always going to be right, but indecision is the biggest enemy of progress. That is why I would give more weight to the ability to make decisions.

Which tools are most effective to help developing leaders advance?

There are three buckets of tools to help individuals develop: experience and on-the-job learning, including activities like shadowing and keeping abreast of industry trends; training and continuing education (the U of M offers myriad opportunities with its portfolio of professional development certificates, including the new Leadership Essentials Certificate); and the third is professional growth through mentors, coaches, board service, and giving back to communities.

I have mentors who are 3M executives as well as executives external to 3M. I seek mentors who are within as well as outside of my expertise domain. They keep me grounded and focused and often help me navigate key career decisions for myself or others that I mentor. 

What do you say to motivate leadership potential in others?

I find that when I’m uncomfortable, that’s when I’m learning the most. I try to provide stretch assignments for my team and seek similar assignments for myself. It builds your brand as a leader who is adaptable, focused, and delivers results all while investing in the development of others. 

As a Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt at 3M, I hired engineers who were also Black Belts and who had a desire to pivot their careers to business. One of the first things I did was to assign projects that not only had them implementing Black Belt programs but would also give them business experience by pairing them up with 3M senior leaders in the areas of interest for the engineers. The plan worked! One of those engineers is now a global marketer.


Garfield Bowen leads 3M’s division of industrial adhesives, where they “glue things up and tape things together.” He developed and instructs the Project Management Foundations and Project Planning courses for the U’s Project Management Certificate. In addition to his service on CCAPS’s professional development advisory board, he is also on the board of directors for the Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity.