Vaughn L. McKoy, JD, MBA: If You Want to Succeed

Jul 28, 2015 by



An Interview with Vaughn L. McKoy, JD, MBA: If You Want to Succeed

Michael F. Shaughnessy –

1) Vaughn, first of all, can you tell us a bit about yourself, and your education and experience?

For over 20 years, I have been recognized for my leadership of corporations, communities and people. My experience spans federal and state governments, nonprofits, law firms, and corporations, where I have earned a reputation as a business-savvy lawyer who is at home in the boardroom and in the trenches.  Prior to my current corporate role, I was one of New Jersey’s top prosecutors, second only to the Attorney General, and served as a federal prosecutor and a lawyer in private practice. I’m a graduate of NYU’s Stern School of Business, Rutgers Law School, and Rutgers University—where I was a scholar-athlete and played football all four years.  Determined to give back to local communities, I am a long-time leader of non-profits, serving as a board member for New Jersey and regional charities. On June 8, 2013, I launched my first book, Playing Up: One Man’s Rise from Public Housing to Public Service through Mentorship, a brief description of which is below.

In his honest and revealing biography, the former Paterson Eastside three-sport star, Rutgers football standout and Assistant United States Attorney Vaughn McKoy takes the reader on his inspirational journey through the unforgiving streets of Paterson, NJ to positions in the upper echelons of law, government and business.  Despite the lure of the streets and the shock and responsibility of becoming a teenage dad, Vaughn excelled through resiliency, education, the conviction of family, teachers and athletic coaches whose teachings were never solely about the game.  Unlike his siblings and friends, Vaughn becomes convinced that life has more to offer than drugs, gangs, and prison.  After being awarded a football scholarship to Rutgers University, Vaughn meets alumnus, attorney, and business mogul Arthur M. Goldberg while lifting weights. Goldberg’s casino exploits are featured in Nelson Johnson’s Boardwalk Empire and The War at the ShoreDonald Trump, Steve Wynn, and the Epic War to Save Atlantic City by Richard D. Bronson. For the next ten years, Goldberg (“Mr. G.”) weekly mentors Vaughn to pursue academic and professional success through teachings of his own.  Chapter by chapter, through Vaughn’s tragedies and triumphs, Playing Up builds in readers the mind-set of ongoing achievement, empowerment and the inspiration to mentor and be mentored. 

2) Now can you give us YOUR definition of mentoring?

As you know, the definition of mentoring is very elusive. In my view, the process of mentoring has three core elements: communication, relationship and learning. Ultimately, mentoring is the transmission of knowledge, social capital, psychological support or other resources from the mentor to mentee to aid in the mentee’s development.

3) Some individuals seek out a mentor. In other instances, an experienced person spots a protégé with potential. What was it in your case?

As told in Playing Up, there have been so many people who served as mentors and contributed to my social, emotional, spiritual, academic and professional development. Most of those relationships occurred naturally through family, community, education, sports or work. In the case of Mr. G. and me, a college coach facilitated my introduction to Mr. G. in the weight room where we both trained. During workouts, I would often share my desire to become a lawyer with my coach. He knew that Mr. G. was a lawyer and connected us. What started out as a mentor/mentee transformed to that of a father and son after more than 10 years of mentorship. On the other hand, I’ve been mentored by people that I have never met through their writings and teachings.

4) There are some perils to mentoring- obviously, the protégé may feel used or exploited, or the female protégé may feel there is some sexual agenda. Your thoughts?

There are perils in all relationships, so mentoring is no different.  That’s the primary reason why the relationship cannot be forced or created in a vacuum.  There must be alignment in a few things, including strengths, motivation and fit. Not only can a mentee be exploited, but a mentor is also at risk of exploitation if the relationship is not mutually beneficial.  The mentee should not be perceived as a “parasite” or not creating value for the mentor in some meaningful way; this helps to preserve the integrity of the relationship.

5) There are so many, many demands on one’s time nowadays. How realistic is mentoring in 2015?

It’s absolutely realistic in 2015 and most of the successes we see today wouldn’t exist if not for a mentor. The mentee should be realistic and flexible with their time and expectations. A main character in Playing Up is Mr. G., who was the CEO of the largest gaming company in the world at the time of his death in October 2000.  He was always on the move and had enormous demands on his time, yet he always found 5 minutes for me when I needed him most.  Many times it’s the quality of the interaction more than the quantity of the interaction that really counts.

6) Do some sincere efforts at mentoring fail?

Absolutely. One of the ways to avoid this is to ensure that mutual expectations are clear in the beginning and that they are honored, regardless of the informal or formal nature of the relationship. The lack of alignment (strengths, motivation and fit), compatibility and time constraints also contribute to failure.

7) How is mentoring different in 2015, than say 1985?

The technology, internet and social media booms have transformed the way we interact, communicate and build relationships with one another.  Through the stroke of characters on keyboards and mobile devices, mentees instantly have the ability to interact and follow potential mentors who were once off limits to them.  The concepts of mentoring are still the same, but the means and methods by which the relationship is developed and nurtured have changed.

8) How has the Internet, and e-mail impacted mentoring today?

I combined this with 7.

9) How many mentors have you had and how have they impacted you?

It’s really hard to quantify because I’ve had many mentors at different times, for different areas and at different levels of mentorship. This is one of the beauties of mentorship; one person does not have to fill every need in a mentee’s life. Thanks to Mr. G., my life was forever changed and my world view of what I could do and become expanded.  It would be unfair to all those who’ve had a hand in my personal and professional development to say that I could not have been successful without him, but I can say the level of success that I’ve experienced is attributable, in large part, to my relationship with Mr. G. and the network that he helped me to develop.

10) Often, protégé’s simply watch and then model an individual that impresses them. Is this true mentoring?

Mentoring is not mimicking. The role of the mentor is to share key learnings, principles and experiences, as well as to provide opportunities, guidance and protection to support the mentee’s achievement and success. The role of the mentee is to take those components and apply them meaningfully in his or her own context without “mimicking” the mentor and being perceived as a “fake or phony.”

11) How many books have you read on mentoring, and which authors have really
influenced you?

I have read a plethora of books on communication, relationships, and learning (growth and development), all of which are the core components of the mentoring processes. Dr. John C. Maxwell, the late Dr. Myles Monroe, Zig Ziglar, Tony Dungy and Malcolm Gladwell have all written books that have inspired me in different ways to be a better mentor and mentee.

12) What have I neglected to ask ? 

Since the release of Playing Up in June 2013, we wanted to make the lessons from it accessible and applicable in a very practical way that drives positive behavior and complements academic learning.  The Coaches’ Playbook, the academic companion to Playing Up, is a tool that can be used to teach character education through literacy in programs for grades 6 through 12, and to empower young adults with the mindset and tools necessary to overcome obstacles and build meaningful relationships.  It’s a turn-key, teaching supplement to Playing Up that is aligned with the Common Core State Standards for Language Arts and History.  It’s an effective resource because it is interdisciplinary, prompts critical thinking and problem solving and includes mini-writing lessons to help students improve their writing skills while reading the book. It can also be scaffolded to meet varying skill levels and contains diverse question types, including true/false, multiple choice and short answer. 

In addition to Playing Up and The Coaches’ Playbook, we are working on Rookie, a sports-themed allegory that illustrates a successful mentoring relationship between “Rookie” and his new mentor, an effervescent business mogul known as “Doc.” Through Rookie and the action steps that follow each chapter, readers/mentees develop twelve key “success plays” to build valuable relationships with mentors to enable them to triumph in both work and life. The uniqueness of Rookie is that it emphasizes the mentee’s responsibility in the relationship and provides the mentee with the tools necessary to best leverage it. 

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