The concept of workplace mentoring is a provocative issue facing organizations today. The book Becoming an Effective Mentoring Leader: Proven Strategies for Building Excellence in Your Organization by Dr. William Rothwell and Peter Chee starts with the quote, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader”. This connotes a natural progression from being an effective mentor to becoming an inspirational leader...
One of the most significant legacies a mentoring leader can leave is to develop more leaders. Such a mentoring relationship requires the highest level of trust that information cannot flow in one direction only – typically from mentor to mentee. Learning becomes a two-way street as the mentee feeds off the vision of the mentor to acquire the self-confidence in pursuing his own dreams.
An important premise in mentorship is: Both mentor and mentee need to be constantly mindful of the temporariness of the mentorship and the inevitability of completeness. The mentee may one day realize that the mentor is no longer the one who effectively inspires. While it is crucial to find a mentor early in one’s career, searching for mentors doesn’t stop after becoming established since there is immense value in learning from others throughout the career cycle.
In the words of well-known mentors and HROD practitioners, the following are some strategic mentoring gems from their respective journey which can guide a mentee’s stages of career development:
A new hire will naturally look for older mentors. Mike Bergelson, founder of the mentor-matching site Everwise realized that for best results, you should look for mentors about three to eight years older than you. Mentors in that slightly older range have recently surmounted the obstacles their younger mentees are facing.
My first job was a Recruitment Assistant and part of my responsibilities was to coordinate the New Hire Orientation Program conducted by the Training Manager, who was about seven years my senior. I remember looking forward to the after-sessions when he would ask me to critique his training facilitation and remind me to prepare to assume the role one day. After about seven months, he urged me to conduct the next session of three new hires to practice my skills, while he patiently watched and gave constructive criticisms. Long before mentoring was a concept used in the workplace, I had a brain to pick, a sounding board, and a vote of confidence before I even recognized my own potentials.
To paraphrase the teachings of Marshall Goldsmith, one of the most-influential Business Thinkers in the World: The skills that got you your first promotion will not get you to the next. In other words, those workers who continue to learn will outperform their peers. Regularly seeking mentors, then, is a sign of employable fitness.
Mid-career, a life-changing opportunity presented itself when I was chosen by an employer’s association to be one of 3 Philippine representatives to a one-year Personnel Management Training Program in Japan. It consists of 19 HR practitioners from 6 Asian countries. The language, culture and traditional seniority system we had to learn in 3 months was a 360 degree turn from our American-influenced work orientation. The upside was the vast opportunity for Peer Mentoring – from well-respected business leaders in the Japanese companies who became our “senpai” (equivalent to the concept of a mentor but on an informal level), to our co-delegates with whom the daily exchange of ideas and re-entry action plans were invaluable.
The higher key personnel peak in their careers, the more they will consider sharing their expertise as a mentor. However, as mentioned earlier, mentors older than eight years tend to have trouble relating to their mentees. This gave rise to a new trend - Reverse Mentoring, where an older professional seeks a younger mentor. GM CEO Jack Welch famously forced 500 executives in the company to take on Reverse Mentors back in the early 2000s, leading from the fore by taking on one himself. Getting a younger person's perspective will open up the older professional to the struggles and opportunities that the current generation are experiencing.
While employed in a Canadian consulting firm, we worked in small teams per account. This gave us the opportunity to share in the vast experience of a Senior Consultant in terms of product knowledge and client requirements. However, our go-to person when it comes to developing automated pension computations and on-line retirement calculators is an actuarial student who is a programming wizard. In our daily interface, we progressed to an informal reversed mentoring relationship whereby he teaches me to create macros in Excel to facilitate my work. In return, I became his resource person when it comes to complicated pension regulations.
All of us experience a career plateau at some point but not everyone will have the opportunity to be guided by a mentor. On the other hand, even the best external mentor is limited in what he can do for a mentee. So here is a seeming outrageous thought – tapping your inner mentor called wisdom! Is it really an outrageous thought or something to really ponder?