Monday, May 18, 2009

Mentor strategy payoff

It has happened to me on multiple occasions. A well intentioned, smart, up-and-comer asks if I’ll be their mentor. While I am always humbled and willing to help, I also want to make sure I bring value to the potential mentee.

I’ve learned over the years to ask what it is that the individual thinks I can help with and it they have other mentors for other topics. Similar to the concept of finding the correct “who” in John Strelecky’s books Big Five for Live and Life Safari, I too believe successful people surround themselves with multiple mentors with different areas of expertise. The five categories of mentors I’ve encouraged talented, high-potential people to have are:

• Educational – Mentors to help guide your education decisions.
• Professional – Mentors to provide insight and guidance for your profession.
• Organizational – Mentors to help interpret and navigate organizational land mines.
• Diversity – Mentors very different then yourself for exposure and self awareness.
• Life – Mentors to guide and understand the things life brings.

This list is not meant to be exhaustive but it does demonstrate the need for multiple mentors and finding the right advice and guidance for a particular situation.

Do you have your own mentor strategy? How do you coach those you mentor in this area?


Prabhu Sankaran said...

I have mentored several folks all along my career. I think the quality that makes a big difference is the realistic optimism that the mentees look forward in a mentor. I have noticed that showing by example and correlating success stories of other individuals motivates mentees to trust the mentor and act on their suggestions.

Patricia Roberts said...

Hi John,

I don't reallly have a mentor strategy, but rather I help anyone who asks. I decided a long time ago that I would try be a blessing to anyone who crossed my path, and I end up mentoring in a variety of the categories you list above. It's worked out pretty well so far... very satisfying. I've been fortunate that others have been willing to mentor me as well, so it seems to balance out.



Terri Cook said...

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Rebecca Lacy said...

John, great topic. We did a mentor/protege training course for a government agency. The mentors were, for the most part, PhD's in their given field. The proteges mostly grad students that the agency was hoping to retain after graduation. It was so interesting the differences between expectations of those in our classes. The proteges were looking for a broad variety of assistance. The younger mentors were in line with the proteges' expectations, however the older ones were primarily looking for help doing grunt work on their research projects. When we asked them about helping to grow the next generation of leaders for the agency, these same people just shrugged their shoulders and asked why should they waste their time on that. After all, they will be retired long before that happens.

Communicating clear expectations of the desired outcomes is so important. Otherwise one or both parties is going to end up very disillusioned with the process. And for the mentors...If you do the job correctly, you will get as much or more out of it than you proteges.

Grant McWhirter said...

I have to agree with this, over the last 3 years I have been involved with various projects, the main one being the setting up of my own business after leaving University.

I have always had several mentors and people who I can call on when in need of assistance. One of the benefits I have always found is that my mentors will do their best to help no matter what, but in some cases the best way they help is by putting me in touch with someone else who has more knowledge in any given area.

I have mentors in education, business management, finance, a serial entrepreneur and several others... all of whom I am very grateful too, I would say that it is important for those who seek mentors to have their own strategy and the ability to use their mentors in the most productive ways. In my case I get on with things and only when I have exhausted my own abilities would I pick up the phone and contact any of my advisors.

Putting the shoe on the other foot, although I am young I actually also mentor several students still at University running social enterprise projects and as my time is limited and I have my own personal objectives with my business I have learned that being selective is quite important and I am more than happy to spend two hours on the phone helping talk someone through a situation or whatever is needed, if they show that they are proactive and working to create their own solutions. I feel that in order to be a good mentor it is important to be available to listen, but equally there is no point committing your own time to somebody who is not prepared to put in the hard graft themselves.

Katerina Kogan said...

Hi John,
Thanks for the post. I have to nod in agreement - one should have a number of mentors for the different challenges. Employee development organizations encourage and try to help by assigning. But the mentorship challenge is two-fold - an ideal mentor should not only be "the right who" for the question, as you point out, but also be compatible on a personal level. Knowing enough individuals within the organization with both attributes is tough - for example, in making decisions that may lead to leaving the company (which many of the younger colleagues rush through) would require that the mentor not only has a broad view but is also personally trusted to be loyal to the mentee's interest and only second to the interests of the company. Incidentally, a challenge for any mentor who him or herself is dedicated to the company.

Martha Hesser said...

John, I don't disagree with the idea of mentoring...But I am reluctant to the idea of "multiple mentors".
Searching and screening mentors, getting to know them, scheduling meetings, following up on goals, meeting with the mentors, and keeping lines of communication alive on a regular basis seem to be tasks that would require as much planning, dedication and attention as working a second job.
If someone does have multiple mentors, I suppose that all (or most) of those activities are accomplished outside of their regular working hours.
If not, it is hard for me to believe that at the same time, one can get regular work done during the week.

Ambreen Farook said...

In addition to the list of different mentors, I'd like to add "Motivational and Innovative Mentors." Through my professional and personal life experiences as a "mentee" and as a "mentor" showing encouragement and giving guidance to developing innovative technology, products and services plants the seed for future growth and knowledge.

There is always going to be the need for innovation to drive growth and create sustainable practices, products and services not only to meet current needs but also future unmet needs. I try to bring awareness to my mentees that they can be the agent of change and an innovator in whatever they pursue as a career or life matter.

Over the last 15 years and coming full circle my mentors have become my trusted advisors and I have also become their mentors in other subject areas.

Allen Karlin said...

We are developing a global mentoring strategy/program for our Directors and High Potentials. Currently we touch on Professional and Organizational areas, but usually roll them into one person. Spreading Mentoring out over five areas is a nice addition for a globally diverse company as ours, it will be interesting to see how our execution oriented culture reacts to this notion.

Kyle Smith said...

John - Just want to say that I really appreciate all of your postings. It is my "daily perspective". Though it may sound trite, thanks for sharing. Kyle

Drew Keefe said...

Hi John,
I take a much less structured approach to finding mentor's - I look for people who are willing and eager to take time to share their wisdom with someone who is eager to learn from them. Those that can provide specific direction and advice, and aren't afraid to challenge me are the ones I return to in the future. It often works out that I end up with mentors in all of the categories you've listed. I've benefited greatly from those in my life who were willing to mentor me, and I pass on any wisdom I have to those that are willing to listen to me.

Lisa Bly said...

When mentoring others, I want to make sure the time we spend together is valuable for us both. I tend to make sure the conversation is structured, deliberate and focused. I've also used Monday Morning Leadership as a guide for those set times when we come together to chat.

My coaching strategies are more relaxed, based on what's required in the coaching session. This applies to friends, colleagues and those who've asked me to mentor them.

Glain Roberts-McCabe said...

Hi John... I really like your five categories. I agree that we need multiple mentors for different reasons. I've probably had people in my life in each of the categories you outline plus engaged with coaches and other professional supports along the way. One of the things I noticed was that often people don't know how to go about finding a mentor and/or don't know how to work with one when they do find them. I think having a clear understanding of what your end objective is (life, educational, etc.) is a key ingredient to having a successful mentoring relationship.

In terms of a new "category" for your list, I started a company specifically for high potential leaders ( which combines your professional/organization/life and potentially educational categories and provides these individuals with mentors EXTERNAL to their organization who can help them navigate their leadership careers... so maybe "leadership career" mentoring. It's amazing how powerful a neutral sounding board that also brings a "three levels up" perspective can be to someone on the fast track.

Scooterrocks said...

Hi John:

I cannot over emphasize the importance of having a mentor or multiple mentors in some if not all of the categories you listed.

Depending upon the issue it is important to be able to draw upon a specific individual with the skills and knowledge to talk through the issues and come up with a good path forward.

Being able to connect with various people to obtain different perspectives is a valuable lesson in obtaining the right guidance.

Part of my strategy is to engage with multiple mentors as people so often change jobs, retire or relocate. This allows me to continue having those rich discussions and provides me time to fill any voids that are created.

Managing "you" is each persons job. Working with mentors helps strengthening and building relationships with both the mentor and people in general. It also assists in expanding your network of influence.

A two-way interchange is important so that both people benefit from the relationship.

When choosing a relationship, trust is one of the most profound attributes that should be considered. Laying your cards on the table could leave you exposed unless you can trust that the conversation is confidential. One thing that I find useful is to state that the conversation is private and that the information discussed should be kept private.

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