Mentorships are good for the mentor, good for the mentee, good for the business, and a worthwhile investment. But cultivating high-functioning mentorship relationships — the ones that create really positive outcomes for both parties — takes time. If you are a leader and want to approach mentoring possibilities in the most effective way, here are a few strategies to consider.
Do we ascend our career ladders alone? Hardly. Most presidents, CEOs, and C-suite leaders have benefited from a list of helpful souls who guided them along their professional paths. I’m no exception. I’ve been fortunate to have life-altering mentors at critical moments in my working career, and I wouldn’t be where I am today without them.
When I reflect on those relationships, they feel almost unintentional in nature: happy accidents that served me well. When I think back on my “accidental mentors,” one common theme stands out: They all saw potential in me that I couldn’t necessarily see in myself at the time. These amazing people were huge advocates for helping me advance to the next step or helping me see where I could advance when my own murky vision of the future might have prevented me from realizing that such a step was possible. The lights they shone on me and my path were instrumental to my growth into a leadership role.
While I hope everyone has happy accidents like these along their journey, this kind of valuable mentorship shouldn’t be left to chance. As leaders, we have a duty — and privilege — to pay it forward to the next generation of leaders by passing along the expertise and knowledge we’ve accumulated over the years.
I was elated when my company resolved to create a platform to provide formalized mentorship experiences and opportunities. In doing so, we hope aspiring colleagues will be able to find mentors and embark on mutually beneficial relationships easily. There are certainly challenges when undertaking such an effort, but the juice is worth the squeeze.
Bridging the Gap
I had my first formal opportunity to be a mentor happened about a year ago. The president of one of our sister companies reached out to discuss a bright young woman and asked whether I would be willing to mentor her. I was so humbled that he even thought of me and excited for another female colleague to have support from her leaders to further her career opportunities.
One of the biggest lessons I learned centered on preparation. My mentee would send me an email at least 24 hours before our meeting about the topics that she wanted to cover, and it would give me enough time to think through what was most relevant and impactful to share. As I learned more about her and her business, I was able to identify things she could work on as she grew into a new role.
Our roles may be different, but shared experiences bridge that gap. The ability to share how I traversed those same experiences is huge. I’d argue that shared experiences are much more powerful than just doling out advice. Ultimately, the real power within a mentorship relationship is generating real trust so you can talk about and be coached through the things that you typically wouldn’t bring up at work. Those are the limits that keep us from growing.
Making Meaningful Mentorships
If you are a leader and want to approach mentoring possibilities in the most effective way, here are a few strategies to consider:
- Focus on building a holistic program that extends beyond the workplace.
My biggest dream and wish as a leader is to provide an environment where people are inspired to grow and do the things they most deeply want to do — at work, at home, and everywhere in between. Having the opportunity to be mentored and to have a framework for that growth to exist puts people on a path to getting the confidence they need in order to take that next step.
It’s shortsighted to focus only on business-related benefits — because our company and our people thrive when we focus holistically on who they are, in and out of work. That goes for one’s personal as well as professional growth. How can we help someone maximize their full potential as a human, either within the business or outside of it? Can we help facilitate volunteer opportunities that match someone’s passions or help alleviate some personal stressors that might affect work performance? Mentors have life experiences that can and should be shared.
- Check to make sure both parties feel like they’re growing thanks to the relationship.
You can tell a mentorship is working well when both parties feel like they’re growing as a result and when people look forward to the conversations they share. Truthfully, the time I get to spend with my current mentee is a bright spot in my month because the questions she asks make me reflect on why I do certain things and where some of my own blind spots are.
Arriving at high-functioning mentorship relationships — the ones that create really positive growth outcomes for both parties — takes time. I’d say a successful mentorship needs to be at least a six-month commitment from both parties, and I’ve found that it’s unwise to set any time maximums on a mentor-mentee relationship. If both sides continue to grow and enjoy the relationship beyond the first year, for example, there’s no reason to end it prematurely. Let the good times roll. If that’s not happening, people need to ask whether they’re in the right relationship in the first place.
- Find a provider that can help you set up the mentorship framework.
Not every company has the bandwidth to take on the creation of a companywide mentorship program from scratch. This is where hiring a third-party specialist can be such a smart investment. If you don’t know where to start, find someone who does. At my company, we worked with an outside partner to guide us through the process to make sure the program would be a success.
But the idea for a mentorship program came from inside our company. We had a contest and invited our employees to submit ideas about how we could make our company better. A mentorship program won the most votes, and so other members of the leadership team and I began working on making that a reality. Fast forward to today, and we’ve got a solid foundation in place and several mentor-mentee relationships being formed.
Mentorships are good for the mentor, good for the mentee, good for the business, and a worthwhile investment. Few company initiatives hold as much promise as a program that spreads institutional knowledge and professional expertise to the next generation of fertile minds within your workforce. When you act intentionally, these mentorships will improve the individuals within the relationship and the company for years to come. It’s the proverbial win-win-win, and success like that is no accident.
Written by Kristen Sieffert.
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