Successful leaders did not achieve their status on their own. In addition to holding responsible positions, managing teams and investing in their professional growth, top-level leaders also formed integral relationships along the way—relationships that helped to shape their paths and increase their potential for advancement. Most successful leaders can point to a mentor who provided critical support, perspective and wisdom on their road to the top.
In the coming years, new advancements in technology, distribution and management of social capital will increase the need for businesses to address skill and leadership gaps. Mentoring and coaching are key strategies for preparing professionals to lead change and innovation.
Basics of mentoring
Mentoring is a practice in which an experienced and knowledgeable person helps guide a less experienced professional through a variety of business situations. Mentoring programs can be formal or informal. They can be one-on-one or situations in which a seasoned mentor guides a group of mentees.
A key mentorship goal is to create a relationship in which the mentee expresses his or her learning needs and interests, prepares for each conversation and is committed to applying the mentor’s advice. The mentor is not a problem solver, but rather is positioned to help the protégé think, evaluate and act in a sound and successful manner.
Effective mentors are talent investors who demonstrate a passion to listen, ask probing questions, and discern key factors contributing to how the mentee experiences situations. Mentors often share lessons learned through personal accounts, especially times when they were faced with a tough decision or pressure point.
Structuring a mentorship program
Matching a mentor to a mentee can be accomplished by using one of the following criteria:
- shared experience and interests
- strength of mentor to weakness of mentee
- mentor holds a role or position to which the mentee aspires
The specifics of meetings can vary, but individuals typically meet for one hour every couple of weeks for about six months. Each meeting consists of a productive conversation on topics important to the mentee. Ongoing feedback is provided, outcomes are evaluated, and parties can agree to continue meeting at the end of the six-month period, if desired.
The mentee shouldtake ownership of framing the discussions, using the mentor’s time wisely, and putting into practice disciplines to advance his or her thinking and behavior. Mentorship is an investment of time and focus, and it requires that the mentee is open to hearing different perspectives, is willing to experience failure, and is committed to advancing his or her capabilities.
How mentorship helps individuals and organizations
The mentor relationship is built on trust and respect. Both parties must contribute to the process in order to reap the benefits. Throughout my career as a talent management professional, I have had the privilege of both mentoring and being mentored. I did not participate in a formal program; rather, my experiences involved someone stepping up and taking the initiative to ask for time and perspective. These relationships make an indelible impact on a person, providing wisdom and effective strategies that help steer the course of life.
Consider investing in mentorship, whether you’re on the giving or receiving end. Mentorship helps the protégé gain capacity to translate values into productive actions, serve as a catalyst for change, and it complements formal training and development programs. For the senior leader, mentoring others provides an outlet for sharing his or her knowledge, giving back, supporting the company, and helping less experienced professionals accelerate their growth and avoid some pitfalls.
Are you a talent investor? If not, what is stopping you from getting started? Simply look for an opportunity today to help an individual build a better tomorrow.