How might your career benefit if you had someone already successful in your chosen field guide and challenge you? Mentoring. Are you too proud or scared?
Do you have any mentors? How did you find them? What do they help you with? Is it a worthwhile relationship to invest in? What are you missing out on if you don’t have (a) mentor(s)? This is what I would like to explore together with you this week.
Most of us have either experienced or seen others experience mentorship though their parents or older siblings, or maybe an aunt or uncle or other “successful” relative or family friend, right? That was certainly true for me. I also “found” mentors at boarding school as well as through my association of the young men’s service club Round Table and subsequently in my diverse corporate career and have learned so much from them all my life. Also, I noticed that I was being asked to help as a mentor to others pretty early in my career.
So what is mentoring?
I found this definition: “Mentoring is a relationship based process for the informal transmission of knowledge (experience), social capital, and the psychosocial support perceived by the recipient as relevant to work, career, or professional development;
mentoring entails (informal) communication, usually face-to-face and during a sustained period of time, between a person who is perceived to have greater relevant knowledge, wisdom, or experience (the mentor) and a person who is perceived to have less (the protégé)” (Bozeman, Feeney, 2007).
This definition and many others seem to suggest the overall leverage of wisdom though a more experienced individual, which I find too narrow. Whilst that may be more traditionally true I have found that age or years of experience don’t necessarily count any more. I have learned that it is expertise in a specific area that counts. I have mentored people older than me and have numerous mentors younger than me. How does that play out in your mentorship roles?
I recently came across a great example where a large multinational selected and allocated “Gen-Y” mentors for their entire executive leadership team to “teach them” all about the power and application of social networking and how these “young people” see the world in business today, which they called “reverse mentoring”. Innovative.
I have found that mentors have always managed to guide me through tricky situations or how to deal with particularly complex issues or politics or relationships. They have usually been very good networkers that have been able to connect me to the right people or solutions I needed at the time. They have given me so many new perspectives that my experience to that point hadn’t or couldn’t (yet) consider. They challenged my thinking, or lack of it. They guided me on career questions, even pointed me to career opportunities I hadn’t seen and guided me through navigating the paths to securing the desired role. Because I have always been a completely open (in my early career also naïve) and curious individual I was never afraid to “ask a stupid question” so as to seek out and find the “clever answers”. Pro-active, Positive and Responsible.
And then I found myself being sought after as a mentor by others, which flattered me at first, but then I realised how “what goes around, comes around” and relished the prospect of being able to “pay back” the value I had gained from being mentored by leveraging that experience to the benefit of others looking for it.
Of course I am eternally grateful that I have now been able to leverage this experience in the form of providing such services to others commercially through my coaching, grooming, mentoring and training business.
What mentoring isn’t.
I have learned that there are a few “no-no’s” in a mentoring relationship.
I don’t believe it is right that you lobby for your mentee. By all means guide them on how to lobby.
I would certainly avoid interfering with the mentee’s manager or being a referee in a stoush. I don’t believe it is right to solve their problems for them – being a collaborator and offering perspectives, yes.
Also, being seen as “too supportive” can harm the mentee’s independence image.
It is useful to be listening more than you speak as a mentor. I have learned that more value comes from questions than from statements in this conversation.
To me the mentee gains the most value when they “fetch” what they want out of it.
Many organizations have implemented mentoring programs, particularly for new graduate intakes. I thought Siemens did that particularly well. For instance all the direct reports of our CFO were invited to mentor a number of new graduates following a new intake. These relationships were informal but progress was monitored and some lasted maybe a year or some a few more and some have outlived employment within that organization. They covered professional guidance in subject matter areas as well as the more behavioural aspects of working life in a complex matrix organization.
Many schools and universities have mentor programs to assist newcomers into “the way things ought to be done here”. Consulting houses certainly have a reputation for mentoring graduates into their organization, but unfortunately I am finding that competitive pressures seem to have forced many of them to “let this go”.
I have recently helped a medium size business develop a mentorship program for their consultants, so that they are comfortably and confidently able to represent the company’s culture and focused dedication to “doing the right things right the first time”. I have trained the mentors and until there are sufficient capable mentors, am mentoring a number of consultants myself. This investment is seen as delivering a competitive edge both for the value of the employee as well as for the value of the company and ultimately their clients. Win – win – win (and I have won from it too) – another win.
This is probably the more widespread use of mentoring in the market. I have learned that mentors are found. I have experienced that I found my mentors by chance. Or was it chance? Reflecting on that, it occurred when I realized that I had a need for guidance in certain aspects of my life and work and as per the Law of Attraction, “put it out there” that having a mentor for this would be really good. And as so often occurs, if you believe in that, I realised after a while that I found myself in a mentoring relationship with somebody absolutely relevant. That was a more passive result.
Others I have gone out quite pro-actively and “found them” as per my blog: Are you a “fetch” person?
Still others have “found me”, where I realised I was in a mentorship relationship through the benevolent support and initiative of someone I greatly admired and respected.
How have your mentors been found?
I am working with a very successful IT software company that has grown from 3 founders to over 60 staff in 3 years, where I am coaching each of the founders individually and then the 3 of them collectively as an exec team, particularly on guiding and growing the business through its naturally required Thresholds. They are looking to expand into another capital city that is notoriously parochial towards their “competitor city” and I understand that this works both ways. Each of these founders acknowledges the need for ongoing mentorship as well as significant growth in their personal networking skills. We explored an approach whereby if each of them sought 3 companies that had successfully expanded their business from one into that other city, and each of them sought 3 that had failed, between them they would have pro-acted 18 meetings. Meetings that necessitated one of the fundamentals of building a network – namely reaching out to initiate a conversation with a stranger (or finding someone relevant within their existing network). Of course they would have also learned what worked and what not and why, and we all agreed that such exposure may well create the opportunities for each of them to “find a mentor” within those individuals consulted.
So if you let your mind wander back over your career, how many mentors do you have and how many have you had? How did you find them, or did any find you? How valuable have those relationships been for you? What value did they add to your life’s work?
If you haven’t had a mentor, irrespective of the reason, can you perhaps see what you have been missing out on? Have you perhaps been too proud to use a mentor? Don’t you think it might be worth considering?
Finally, if you take your eyes off yourself and look at the great privilege of guiding and helping in the development of others’ success, wouldn’t it be a great way of “giving something back” and becoming a mentor to a deserving other? What if you could? And what if you did?