When people think of mentoring, they often associate it with an older executive who counsels a promising newbie. The senior leader advises the junior employee on his career, navigating office politics and what’s needed to get ahead.
But mentoring has dramatically changed over the last few decades.
In “Demystifying Mentoring,” a February 2011 Harvard Business Review blog post, Contributing Editor Amy Gallo identifies four common mentoring myths:
Myth #1: Mentoring is a formal long-term relationship. Because the business world moves fast and people frequently change jobs, a long-term advisory relationship may be unrealistic. Mentoring can be a 1-hour session; it needn’t be an official 6-month assignment.
Instead of focusing on the long term, think of mentoring as a tool you can access when you need it. Of course, advice and guidance may be more relevant if they come from someone who knows you and understands your goals. But you still need to build relationships so you have connections in place when you require advice. In some instances, you may wish to consult people who don’t know you as well, but can offer a fresh perspective.
Myth #2: You have to find one perfect mentor. It’s actually quite rare these days for people to get through their careers with only one mentor. In fact, many people have several esteemed advisors. Seeking a variety of perspectives on a crucial issue may be warranted.
Myth #3: Mentoring is just for junior-level employees. Many people assume they need a mentor only when starting their careers. In reality, professionals at every developmental stage can benefit from a mentoring relationship. You may be surprised to find that reverse mentoring often occurs (a senior manager, for example, learns technology skills from a junior employee).
Myth #4: Experienced professionals mentor out of the goodness of their hearts. It can be an honor to be asked to mentor someone, but the relationship is about more than respect for a trailblazer. Mentoring should be useful to both parties. Think about what you can offer a potential mentor:
- Can you provide a unique perspective on his role in the organization?
- Do you bring valuable outside information that can help your mentor in her job?
While not a direct barter, you may be able to offer your prospective mentor a promise of future assistance.
Do’s and Don’ts
Mentoring can take many forms, but your goal is to find the right kind of advice, from the right person, at the right time.
Gallo offers the following guidelines in her Harvard Business Review article:
- Build a cadre of people you can turn to for advice when you need it
- Nurture relationships with people whose perspectives you respect
- Think of mentoring as both a long- and short-term arrangement
- Assume that your success or experience precludes your need for a mentor
- Rely on one person to help guide your career
- Expect to receive mentoring without providing anything in return
“Fundamentally, mentoring is about growing—mentors growing with protégés, protégés growing with mentors.” ~ Chip R. Bell and Marshall Goldsmith, Managers as Mentors, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Third Edition, 2013
An effective mentoring relationship can be best described as a mutual search for wisdom. It’s grounded in a true partnership that thrives on reciprocal facilitation of learning.
Such reciprocity requires the mentor to surrender power differences to build rapport and trust. Learning cannot occur with fear in the room.
Bell and Goldsmith encourage the “SAGE” approach to forming the foundation for an effective mentorship:
S = Surrendering. Power, authority and command (or the protégé’s perception of these traits in a mentor) can doom the dialogue necessary for learning.
A = Accepting. Strive for a safe relationship. The protégé must trust the mentor to provide an environment that encourages risk and experimentation.
G = Gifting. A mentor should supply advice, feedback and/or focus. This stage is actually the most delicate. If the mentor has failed to pave the way for Surrendering and Accepting, the protégé may ignore, undervalue, resist or reject the gift of knowledge.
E = Extending. A mentor must help the protégé apply information to real-life experiences so self-directed learning may occur. Creative teaching tools include role-playing, feedback and storytelling.
Quick Tips for Mentors and Protégés
The quality of your mentoring relationship will determine its ultimate success. Each partner must accept responsibility for making it work. When something isn’t gelling, be sure to communicate your concerns. When expectations are met, let go and move on.
Bell and Goldsmith offer some fundamental tips in Managers as Mentors:
For Being a Great Protégé:
- Select a mentor who can help you be the best you can be—not the one who can ease you into a promotion.
- You can sometimes learn more from people who are different from you.
- Clarify your goals and expectations for the mentoring relationship, and communicate them in your first meeting.
- Be yourself. Be willing to take risks with new skills and ideas.
- When given feedback, listen well and say thank you.
For Being a Great Mentor:
- Mentoring is a partnership to help your protégé learn. It’s not about being an expert or authority.
- Don’t instruct; foster discovery. Ask powerful questions instead of giving smart answers.
- Be authentic, open and sincere. Establish a comfortable and safe environment.
- Act more like a friend than a boss.
- Be curious and attentive.
- Give feedback with a strong focus on the future, not the past.
Are you working in a professional services firm or other organization where executive coaches provide leadership development to grow emotionally intelligent leaders? Effective mentoring is essential for leadership development. Does your organization provide executive coaching for leaders who want to be effective mentors? Mentors tap into their emotional intelligence and social intelligence skills to collaboratively grow others and help create a more fulfilling future.
One of the most powerful questions you can ask yourself is “Do I provide mentoring in the spirit of a mutual search for wisdom?” Sustainable organizations provide mentoring as part of their coaching and mentoring culture.
Working with a seasoned executive coach and leadership consultant trained in emotional intelligence and incorporating assessments such as the Bar-On EQ-I, CPI 260 and Denison Culture Survey can help you become a more effective mentor. You can become a leader who models emotional intelligence and social intelligence, and who inspires people to become fully engaged with the vision, mission and strategy of your company or law firm.
About Dr. Maynard Brusman
Dr. Maynard Brusman is a consulting psychologist, executive coach and trusted advisor to senior leadership teams. He is the president of Working Resources, a leadership consulting and executive coaching firm. We specialize in helping San Francisco Bay Area companies and law firms assess, select, coach, and retain emotionally intelligent leaders. Maynard is a highly sought-after speaker and workshop leader. He facilitates leadership retreats in Northern California and Costa Rica. The Society for Advancement of Consulting (SAC) awarded Dr. Maynard Brusman "Board Approved" designations in the specialties of Executive Coaching and Leadership Development.