The Importance of Mentoring (Part 1)

Recently while working as a performance coach to a client, I was reminded of just how important mentoring has been for me throughout my career.  I have been very lucky to have many mentors including:

Sharon Justice–who inspired taught me in my first job and then had the foresight to encourage me to leave it for bigger and better days.  She seemed to always have a ‘sixth sense’ to see inside me (and others).

Tim Dempsey–who nurtured my early career with sound advice even when it didn’t match what I wanted to hear.  He continually encouraged my development even when it meant I had to make uncomfortable changes.

Chuck Canfield–who ironically mentored me first as a supplier and then gave me the best advice as  I started my business.  He’s always had the gift to ask the right questions and propel my thinking with his wisdom and experience.

These people have been unique and special throughout my career.  But guess what…none of them managed me.  They played key, informal roles in my career and professional development.  And the biggest role was that of a mentor.

What is Mentoring?

Mentoring is a structured and trusting relationship that brings professionals together who offer guidance, support and encouragement aimed at developing the competence and character of the mentee. A mentor is a respected and experienced professional who provides support, counsel, friendship, reinforcement and constructive examples. Mentors are good listeners, they care, and they want to help others realize strengths that are already there. A mentor is not a substitute manager, therapist, performance coach, or buddy.  Mentoring can help by:

  • Improving attitudes about work, management, customers, etc.

  • Encouraging people to stay motivated and focused on their development

  • Helping people face challenges

  • Offering people opportunities to consider new career paths and get much-needed skills and knowledge.

  • Encourage people to accept challenging assignments and opportunities

How Mentoring Helps

At its most basic level, mentoring helps mentees because it guarantees that there is someone who cares about them, their development, and interests. It guarantees that they will have someone who will listen and offer unbiased advice, ideas, and feedback.

Mentors provide mentees with an experienced colleague who is ready to help in any number of different situations.  Mentors…

  • improve self-esteem.

  • provide support to try new behaviors.

  • teach people how to relate well to others and strengthen their communication skills.

  • help determine career goals and start taking steps to realize them.

  • can use their personal contacts to help meet industry professionals.

  • introduce people to professional resources and organizations they may not know about.

The number of ways mentoring can help are as varied as the participants involved in each relationship.

The most successful mentoring relationships are formal and agreed-upon.  That means that the mentee and mentor agree to the time, commitment, and outcomes.

Mentor’s Role

A mentor is a caring colleague who devotes time and attention to their mentee. Although mentors can fill any number of different roles, all mentors have the same goal in common: to help people achieve their potential and discover their strengths.

Mentors should understand they are not meant to replace formal levels of management or structure. A mentor is not a disciplinarian or decision maker.  Rather, they provide resources and ideas.  They also ask the ‘tough questions’ that we often wish to avoid.

A mentor’s main purpose is to help a person define individual goals and find ways to achieve them. Since expectations will vary, the mentor’s job is to encourage the development of a flexible relationship that responds to both the mentor’s and the mentee’s needs.

A successful mentor possesses the following qualities:

  1. Willingness to share skills, knowledge, and expertise.

  2. Demonstrates a positive attitude and acts as a role model.

  3. Takes a personal interest in the mentoring relationship.

  4. Exhibits enthusiasm in the field.

  5. Values ongoing learning and growth in the field.

  6. Provides guidance and constructive feedback.

  7. Respected by colleagues and employees in all levels of the organization.

  8. Sets and meets ongoing personal and professional goals.

  9. Values the opinions and initiatives of others.

  10. Motivates others by setting a good example.

How do you get started?

There are several ways but the easiest is to think of someone you admire and respect professionally.  They will possess the above 10 qualities plus should have some familiarity with your abilities and knowledge.

Then set a date to meet with them and ask them to mentor you. 

Of course, sometimes it is helpful to have a mentor outside of your normal circle of colleagues.  I’ve known of several successful programs such as Menttium and Management Mentors.  I’ve also found that many of the “leadership” programs offered through local chambers of commerce are quite good.

It doesn’t matter, in the end, how you start.  Just go out today and find a mentor who will help you in your career!

(Part 2 will look at leaders becoming a mentor.)

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