The Characteristics and Benefits of Mentoring in Today’s Workplace
By Patty Alper, President, Alper Portfolio Group
“I do not believe any company in America can build a sustainable, enduring enterprise by just embracing profitability. Employees today want to work for a company that they can trust. They want to be part of something larger than themselves. And they want to go home at night and share with friends and family that they are proud of what their company stands for.”
– Howard Schultz, former chairman and CEO of Starbucks.
Why Establish a Mentoring Relationship?
I have often been asked why corporations should expend their resources on mentorship programs—including programs that exist within their walls, and/or those that expand outwardly to the community. And in both cases, my answer is the same: because everyone, including the mentors, the mentees, and the corporation, will benefit. Employees will develop leadership skills and stronger working relationships, learn new skills and interests, they will become part of something bigger, and they will grow professionally. And corporations will see more employee engagement, retention, happiness, and even increased community relations.
I can say this because over the course of my own 35-year career in business, as well as decades of hands-on mentoring, I personally witnessed the tremendous benefits. I developed a mentorship model that grew to be national in scope, (for the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship NFTE) and observed recurring relationships with companies to their mentorship roles, and to their mentees. I was so fascinated with this generous behaviour, I started interviewing dozens of corporations and researching the value of mentorship within their own corporate cultures. To that end, I have written about the benefits of corporate mentorship extensively in both my book, Teach to Work, How a Mentor, a Mentee, and a Project Can Close the Skills Gap in America, and in numerous blogs found on www.teachtowork.com.
I particularly have taken interest in a kind of mentorship I have coined as Project Based Mentoring®. Whereby, a practitioner with experience takes on a mentorship role with a student, or junior level employee, and a real world project is at the center of the relationship. Depth of learning ensues when: hypotheses are developed; master planning designed; actionable steps and deadlines spelled out; research expanded; obstacles overcome; and results presented and analyzed.
I can attest to how careers and lives have been permanently changed, and how corporations have implemented programs only to find a positive ripple effect that touches nearly every aspect of business: from profitability to employee satisfaction, from expanded hiring pools to greater retention, and from corporate social responsibility to broadened community impact.
But formal programs are not required for the benefit to be real. If your corporation does not have a formal program (yet), I cannot overstate the value of finding a mentor yourself. And I can suggest using the Project Based Mentoring method as one that will optimize every part of your corporate mentor/mentee experience. Here is what to look for, and how to implement an ideal mentor/mentee relationship.
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The Ideal Mentor/Mentee Relationship Has 6 Important Characteristics
Project Based Mentoring ® occurs when a mentor and mentee collaborate on a real-world corporate project. And that collaboration lends itself to six important characteristics that embody the mentor/mentee bond. If you are the mentee, I recommend first finding a project that you are either in charge of, or would like to implement in your corporate position. Then look for a mentor that brings six important traits.
First, -One of the most important personality traits a mentor can bring is setting an example. The mentor’s very presence and experience suggests the idea that–“if I did it – if I made it through all the struggles and bumps – you can, too.” Look for a humble mentor who shares their peaks and valleys along the road to success. And from that relationship, you will also grow your own motivation and confidence. To a mentee, the mentor is a tangible, humble, and accessible example of what success can look like. And nearly always, that success didn’t come without flaws and uncertainties. The ideal mentor illustrates that successful people learn how to persevere, and by sharing experiences with you, the mentor builds your perseverance.
Second, the ideal mentor suggests by their very action of showing up that, “I’m here to help you – you can count on me – AND, I’ll be back.” Mentor/mentee relationships last for months, years, and sometimes even lifetimes. I still keep in touch with mentees I first connected with over twenty years ago. When a mentee continues to come back for more mentoring, for support, and the mentor responds, the mentor communicates – without words – that people can be reliable. Some people do what they say they are going to do; a quality that is experienced by deeds not words.
Third, a mentoring relationship gives direction. The mentor and mentee work together on projects, and the mentor provides the important perspective of experience: “here’s how I might do this – now what do you think?” This exchange offers skill development opportunities, and the courage to try. And it provides a map of what skills might need to be sharpened while completing the project.
Fourth, a mentoring relationship gives the rare opportunity to witness a healthy, give-and-take dialogue. Such as a mentor saying, “I’m not sure I agree with that premise, can you defend it further and explain your underlying reasons…” When troubleshooting a project, the ideal mentor will ask difficult or provoking questions, or simply play devil’s advocate. Mentors may even probe whether a mentee has thought through certain scenarios. What the mentee learns is that workplace dialogues can have a back-and-forth, compromise, and even redirection, all while being respectful. This provides important feedback on how to interact in an office setting without alienating or harshly criticizing others.
Fifth, This aspect of a mentor relationship offers a gentle accountability. Seek a mentor who is willing to stand in the role not as a your judge, and not as your boss, not with any authority. Instead, the mentor should be more like a consultant, an advisor, an advocate, a non-judgmental listener. The mentee should feel accountable – with gratitude to his consultant, his mentor, who stands behind him and wants him to succeed.
Finally, the Sixth characteristic of an ideal mentor is listening. The mentor should want to hear what the mentee has to say. The mentor volunteers her time and resources to the relationship and continues to do so through thick and thin. When this occurs, the mentee enjoys a sense of being valued and heard. Their ideas can grow with banter and exchange—eventually a greater confidence and greater skills, greater motivation and gratitude accompany the relationship.
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If you are looking for a new year’s resolution in January 2021, please join National Mentoring Month and consider the benefits and all the characteristics of building mentoring bonds within your company. I think you will be wholly surprised at the multitude of outcomes —Start informally and then track results. You’ll see for yourself.
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