Being a Mentor
Having a mentor can be an important part of developing or broadening your capability. In all likelihood you have at some point in your career benefited from a mentor in areas such as learning a new skill, navigating your career, handling a political situation, managing people, or thriving in the culture of a new organization.
As an executive search firm, we are retained to find leaders and interim leaders for our clients. Over the years we have heard many successful executives comment on the value of mentoring in their professional lives and would like to share with you some of our insights about mentoring.
The intent of mentoring is to help the protégé develop his or her skills so that they will be able to bring the most value to their employer(s) in a way that is congruent with their own goals, values, satisfaction, and desired direction. A mentor offers their professional expertise and support to a less experienced colleague. A mentor can serve as a teacher, counselor, coach, and advocate to a protégé. The value of a mentoring relationship usually increases over time, as familiarity and personal understanding increases.
Most people have had several mentors in their careers, some long lasting, others short term and situation specific. Many executives (particularly those who have had successful mentors themselves) welcome or even seek the opportunity to mentor others. It is typically quite rewarding to see your accumulated experience passed on to a younger, less experienced professional, particularly when the impact of your mentorship is significant and indisputable.
Some guidelines to being a successful mentor:
- Goals and expectations should be clear and determined at the outset
It is important to have mutually agreed upon goals in a mentoring relationship, supported if possible by concrete indicators of when those goals have been achieved. Do the sales numbers increase after 6 months of mentorship? Do quality scores improve?
- You must be or become genuinely interested in your mentee
Working successfully as a mentor requires you getting to know your mentee well. What are his or her motivations, priorities, likes and dislikes, goals, work style, etc.? Without this broader perspective it is difficult to mentor effectively.
- Share your experiences and insight
Don’t hesitate to discuss your own experience, including mistakes you have made and what you have learned from them. Be genuine and forthright in doing so, which builds your credibility and mutual trust. Often, more is learned from mistakes than from successes!
- Listen actively and thoughtfully
A good coach/mentor will actively and patiently listen, and not reflexively give advice or make recommendations before understanding completely the complexities of the situation. Ask open-ended questions that will draw out details about the issues at hand, hopefully leading them to come to the optimal conclusion themselves. Being a reflective sounding board is of great value; encourage mentees to explore their thoughts and ideas openly with you.
- Mentorship is practical and future-directed
The focus is of mentoring is for future improvement and growth, not resolution of internal or past problems. Mentoring is not therapy.
- Keep an open mind
Shutting down discussion that you know is a dead end is not as helpful as letting a conversation play out and allowing the mentee to arrive at that insight themselves. Your role is to help the mentee think through and test ideas, not to dismiss them.
- Choose the right mentoring situation
Clearly you can be a better mentor in some situations than others. For example, a young professional may be exploring a new career direction and seek a mentor with experience in that segment of the industry, maybe even a mentor who has made a similar transition themselves. In which situations can you add the most value?
- A good mentor is not always bound to a specific situation.
This is where the distinction between mentoring and coaching can get fuzzy. Generally a coach works to support and enhance one’s growth, independent of any previous content knowledge or experience. A coach may not have more, or even any, experience in the field of his or her client. A mentor most typically is more senior and experienced than the mentee, likely with in the experience in the same field or situation.
- Provide helpful feedback
Mentees welcome constructive feedback. In a mentor/mentee relationship honest feedback should stimulate the mentee to consider his or her actions in new ways.
- Be a positive role model
Actions speak louder than words.
- Celebrate achievements!
Your time is valuable, so why spend it being a mentor? Mentoring is a case of “getting through giving.” Concerns and struggles of your mentee are likely similar to those you faced earlier in your career. They are also likely similar to those of people you manage now; understanding them can be helpful to your own managerial effectiveness. Active listening with your mentee helps remind you to do the same active listening in the workplace. Your mentee’s successes will probably bring you great satisfaction. Essentially, mentoring is a way of giving back, of providing others with a sounding board and wisdom with no strings attached. Ultimately, you both benefit from the relationship.
Jeffrey Zegas is CEO and Founder of ZurickDavis, a retained executive search firm exclusively serving health care organizations. Our ZDmd division specializes in recruiting physician leaders. Our ZDinterim division places interim executives to assure strategic momentum and leadership continuity. Follow us at @ZurickDavis or on Linkedin at ZurickDavis or ZDinterim
Posted on Jan 28, 2020