Jack Donaghy’s Guide to Mentorship

Jack Donaghy Best Businessman

Jack Donaghy’s Guide to Mentorship

The fictional character Jack Donaghy, from NBC’s 30 Rock, is the greatest businessman American television has ever created. Born into a lower-income family in South Boston, Jack began working at the age of 12. While attending college at Princeton University, he worked the day shift at a graveyard and the night shift at a Days Inn.

We first meet Jack in the first episode of 30 Rock, where he is the Vice President of East Coast Television and Microwave Oven Programming for General Electric, and he ends the series as the head of NBC. His character spends most of the series mentoring Liz Lemon, played by Tina Fey. If there’s one fictional character who can show us the importance of a mentor, it’s Jack Donaghy.

In the sixth episode of season five, Jack’s wife makes him end his mentorship with Liz Lemon. Jack then spends the rest of the episode looking for a new mentee. He conducts a number of interviews to see if certain people have the right qualities that would qualify them for his sage tutelage. Jack is specifically looking for drive and ambition, intelligence, humility, and chaos.

In this post, I will describe how each these interviews plays out and how you should act if Jack—or any professional you admire—were to interview you about becoming your mentor.


1. Drive and Ambition to Make Mentoring Worth the Effort

In this episode, Jack Donaghy states that “ambition is the willingness to kill the things you love and eat them in order to stay alive.” Jack gives his first test to his assistant, Jonathan. He offers Jonathan the mentorship, but to be a candidate for the mentorship, Jonathan, who acts more like a disciple following a deity than an assistant working for a supervisor, has to cut off Jack’s pinky. The assistant is unwilling to do what is asked and therefore lacks the drive and ambition to become a mentee.

While most mentors will not require you to mutilate themselves or another person, you do have to demonstrate some level of drive and ambition for this type of relationship to work. If you are not willing to do the things it takes to get ahead, within reason of course, then maybe you should rethink the mentor/mentee relationship.


2. Humility to Accept Help

Later in the episode, Jack stumbles upon Tracy Jordan dealing with an image issue. Throughout the show, Tracey establishes himself as the lovable buffoon. Episode after episode, Tracy gets into a plethora of outrageous hijinks and shenanigans. In the episode in question, Tracey realizes that these childish acts have painted an unflattering, albeit accurate, image of him.

When Jack meets up with Tracy, he offers the distressed actor some sage advice. “Change your headline.” Jack tells Tracy that no matter what you have done in your past, you can change the way you behave in the present, ultimately changing the way people see you in the future.

Instead of accepting Jack’s advice, Tracy claims credit for the idea himself. When Jack offers to continue giving advice to the actor, Tracy says, “I don’t need your help. I’m Tracy Jordan. When I go to sleep, nothing happens in the world.”

Tracy obviously fails the test of humility, which is arguably the most important of Jack’s requirements for mentorship.

One of the most important aspects of the mentor/mentee relationship is working with someone who knows more than you. Pride and ego get in the way of the advice the mentor has to offer. If you think you already know more than your mentor, either humble yourself or get a different mentor.


3. Intelligence to Understand the Challenges They’re Going to Face

The next person to present themselves as a candidate for Jack’s mentorship is Jenna Maroney. Jenna is the show’s diva in residence. Like Tracy Jordan, Jenna Maroney is so egocentric that she often fails to comprehend the meaning of what is being said, as we see in this episode, when Jenna asks Jack why Tracy is getting more attention than her.

To answer Jenna’s question, Jack begins to think out loud. He lists off all the reasons why she doesn’t get the same level of attention as Tracy Jordan.

  • His movies make millions of dollars.
  • He has platinum comedy albums.
  • He owns the world’s only giraffe basketball team.

The purpose of this simple mental exercise seems lost on Jenna, and she storms out. As she makes her way to the door, Jack tells her that she failed the test of intelligence. Angrily she replies, “Yeah, well so are you!”

Obviously, to get ahead, you need some form of intelligence, be it street smarts or book smarts. When working with a mentor, it’s important to be able to recognize that your mentor may ask tough things of you.

He or she may put you in a situation where you are unsure how you will succeed. But if you have chosen the right mentor, and Jack Donaghy is always the right mentor, you will have the tools necessary to overcome anything.


4. A Life That Is a Bottomless Swamp of Chaos

Unfortunately for us, we never actually get to see Jack look for a new mentee whose life is a “bottomless swamp of chaos.” What we do see, however, is his former mentee’s life plunge into utter chaos without his sage guidance.

During the episode, Liz is forced to deal with her father, who is seeking extramarital companionship. Without Jack there to guide her through this problem, she tries to handle the situation on her own, always asking herself, “What would Jack do?”

Each attempt she makes to dissuade her father from his gentlemen’s intermission is a glorious disaster. It’s not until the waning seconds of the episode that Jack and Liz are reunited and the mentor is able to help the mentee.

As Jack’s help pulls Liz out of the swamp his absence has created, so too can a mentor help each of us rise above the quagmires of life. We would all be better off having a mentor like Jack Donaghy helping us through tough situations.

If you are driven to succeed, humble enough to ask for advice, and smart enough to take the advice—and if your life is a bottomless swamp of chaos—you may want to think about finding a mentor.

Thaddaeus Brodrick
[email protected]

Thaddaeus is the Quality and Education Team Lead in Boostability's Orem office, where he manages quality assurance and training. In addition to his work at Boostability, Thaddaeus is a freelance blogger who writes and manages the site GoingNerdy, which looks explores all things nerdy.