The Zen of Mentor Development
In Enabling Knowledge Creation, Krogh, Ichijo, and Nonaka (2000) write that professionals need to grow proportionally in two areas,
- the knowledge they acquire
- how accessible they are to those who need help
They go beyond what Drefus and Drefus (1986) call competent behavior, for rather than just assuming responsibility for the outcome of their actions, a professional's expertise now has to also be equated with social responsibility—demonstrate to others the link between action and outcome and help them to learn the necessary methods for caring out the same actions.
While some professionals will naturally take on the both roles, others will require some help with the additional responsibility. This is where the organization has to provide some support as people cannot be thrust into a mentorship role, especially when they do not have the skills as bad mentoring may be worse than none at all (Ragins, Cotton & Miller, 2000). Thus the need for identify and transferring skills that will enable the mentor to perform.
Mentoring Traits, Styles, and Focus
Some of the basic qualifications for mentoring are (DeSimone, Werner, 2012 & Krogh et al. 2000):
- Be a good role model
- Gives honest advice when needed via:
- constructive feedback,
- explaining an inside view of what really is going on,
- thinking out loud,
- being open-minded and able to value different perspectives.
- Be a good and patient listener
- Committed to others' growth and development in order to take on new responsibilities
- Showing empathy by being able to walk in another's shoes
- Able to offer useful criticism and redirect their actions onto a successful path
- Approachable and transparent
- Is ready for a long-term mentor/protègè relationship
- Able to admit mistakes and learn from them
- Know one's strengths and weaknesses
- A life-long continuous learner
In addition, a mentor:
- looks for signs of specialness that she can somehow work with and develop
- gives honest career advice when needed (equally important, people being mentored must have enough faith in their mentor to take their advice seriously)
- does not let employees get beat up or spit out by corporate bureaucracy or office politics
- lets it be known that the protègè is an excellent potential and is not to be trifled with
- sees the future and grooms the protègè to be ready for major responsibilities
- lets her employees shine—she knows the credit will reflect back on her as much as it does on the protègè
Whew! That's quite a bit of involvement for a mentor. This involvement is why it is hard to train someone to be a mentor and to find mentors. How do you train someone to care about another person? How do you make it a corporate policy that every supervisor, manager, and executive will be assigned an employee to mentor when he might not recognize that specialness that he can work with and develop? On the other side of the coin—how to advise someone to search around and find someone who will take them under their wing as if they were auditioning to be adopted?
Guidelines for a Mentoring Program
During a retreat, special function, workshops, or similar meetings where you have the majority of supervisors, managers, and executives gathered, have an informal session on mentorship. It should not be too hard to find someone in the upper echelons of your company that has been a mentor or has had someone mentor them. Most people who have reached the top have had a mentor... and they in turn will want to pay back their dues. After a small briefing on what a mentor is, have one or more persons tell a story of how being a mentor has helped:
- their department to grow
- they got credit for producing a star performer
- they got a reputation for caring about people
- how it has enriched their own work experience, career, or life
Also, have someone tell a story of how a mentor has helped their own career to succeed. And let it be known that being a mentor is endorsed by the organization's top leaders and how they see it as being a great benefit to the company.
Give pointers (if possible a workshop, learning session, etc.) on being a mentor:
- Don't confuse mentoring with free-association babbling or spreading company gossip
- Do NOT give huge or complicated assignments to people who do not have the time or experience to handle them
- Do give small special assignments that will provide a series of small successes (build from there)
- Take the lead, ask an employee if she wants some special explanation, an inside view, a bit of tutoring, if she is frustrated with anything
- Ensure a person's hard work and skill are translated into actual opportunities for promotion and advancement
- Be willing to give and receive feedback
- Be generous with praise, but make it specific
- Be gentle with corrections, but do not point out every little mistake—focus in on those that are real roadblocks.
- Be clear about your expectations of the mentoring relationship
- Be honest and open
- Be willing to discuss what is going well and what isn't in the relationship
- Be able to commit the time and the energy to the relationship
- Honor your commitments
- What is mentoring?
- Types of mentoring
- Finding a mentor
- Mentor Development
- Creating a Mentoring Program
- Mentoring with Social Media
Drefus, H. L. & Drefus, S.E. (1986). Mind over Machine. New York: Macmillan.
DeSimone, R. L., Werner, J. M., Harris (2012). Human Resource Development. Mason, OH.: South-Western College Pub.
Krogh, G. V., Ichijo, & K., Nonaka, I. (2000). Enabling Knowledge Creation: How to Unlock the Mystery of Tacit Knowledge and Release the Power of Innovation. New York: OXford Press.
Ragins, B. R., Cotton, J. L., & Miller, J. S. (2000). Marginal mentoring: The effects of type of mentor, quality of relationship, and program design on work and career attitudes. Academy of Management Journal. 43(6), 1177-1194.