By E. Wayne Hart
The benefits of mentoring are well known: It gives less experienced employees valuable feedback, insight and support, while passing down wisdom and institutional knowledge. But who can develop effective mentoring relationships with today’s time pressures and revolving doors of employees?
In organizations flattened by design or by downsizing, employees often take on larger or more challenging roles with very little preparation or support. High-potential managers move around the organization, gathering experience but often missing out on time to reflect on what they are learning. Such situations can be both exciting and overwhelming–and when they arise, mentoring relationships can help employees both adapt and learn.
Of course, as an experienced manager, you run major initiatives, take on complex jobs and have zero time to spare. Helping younger employees manage their careers, navigate organizational politics and gain success is almost certainly not your top priority. Take a moment, though, to consider how being a mentor will help you with your own career goals.
For starters, the most effective mentors also improve their own leadership skills. As you assist your mentee, you have the chance to reflect on and articulate your own expertise and experience–something you probably don’t take time to do otherwise. Along the way, you may see patterns you didn’t spot before.
Mentoring also helps you view the organization with a fresh eye toward its functions, politics and culture. You may, for example, gain a new understanding of how people from different generations or backgrounds approach their work and careers. Also, many mentors say they get personal satisfaction and fulfillment from their mentoring relationships. If you’re feeling burned out or cynical, mentoring can give you and your career a boost.
What does it take to become an effective mentor? Here’s a brief look at seven key tasks for the mentor to perform:
- Develop and manage the mentoring relationship. Initially, this involves assessing your own readiness and interest, selecting someone to mentor and getting to know each other. Over time, it means working to build trust, set goals and keep the mentoring relationship on track.
- Sponsor. Opening doors and advocating for your mentee can allow her to develop new skills and gain meaningful visibility. You can create and seek new opportunities for her and connect her with people in your network.
- Survey the environment. Mentors keep a watchful eye on the horizon, looking for both threatening organizational forces and positive opportunities. You want to be on the lookout for include rumors, people taking an adversarial position relative to the mentee, shortcuts through the system, low-visibility or no-win assignments and high-visibility or win-win assignments.
- Guide and counsel. You may serve as a confidant, sounding-board and personal advisor to your mentee, especially as the relationship grows deeper over time. You may help your mentee understand conflict or explore ways to deal with problems, for example. You also can warn your mentee about behavior that is a poor fit with organizational culture.
- Teach. Many mentors enjoy the teaching aspects of mentoring, which mean not only imparting their knowledge but also sharing their experiences and recommending assignments.
- Model. Just while observing you mentees pick up many things: ethics, values and standards; style, beliefs and attitudes; methods and procedures. They are likely to follow your lead, adapt your approach to their own style, and build confidence through their affiliation with you. As a mentor, you need to be keenly aware of your own behavior.
- Motivate and inspire. Mentors support, validate and encourage their mentees. When you help your mentees link their own goals, values and emotions to the larger organizational agenda, they become more engaged in their work and in their own development.
You will not do all seven of these things all the time. Each mentoring situation is different, and you’ll need to shift your role depending on the person and their goals. For example, if you’re mentoring an up-and-coming project manager who will be moving on to another assignment soon, your focus may stay on her near-term challenges and preparation for the next step. Another mentee may be need help navigating the organization and building his career, so sponsoring and protecting may be your focus.
Always remember that mentoring is a shared job. You aren’t solely responsible for creating a successful mentoring relationship. The person being mentored needs to be flexible, honest, open and receptive to feedback and insight. He or she needs to be willing and able to take action in pursuit of goals, to invest in learning and to take steps toward needed change. The mentee also needs to be willing to give you feedback and talk about what is or isn’t working well in the relationship.
As you work together, you’ll make course corrections, the relationship will deepen, and you’ll discover that being a mentor is no longer an unnecessary, expendable task. Instead it will be a rewarding one for you that has a profound impact on others.
Source: Forbes. E. Wayne Hart is a senior faculty member at the Center for Creative Leadership and author of the CCL guidebook Seven Keys to Successful Mentoring.