Mentors, managers and mentoring up
Everyone can use a mentor.
A mentor is a someone who acts as a personal guide and adviser, while a mentee is the person on the receiving end of that advice, training and counsel.
Mentors are role models from whom mentees learn, and who are generally interested in passing on knowledge, experience and thoughts, as well as insights and inspiration for personal and professional progression.
Good mentors help champion, guide, define and help mentees recognise and foster their true abilities.
For young employees and up-and-coming managers, being given guidance from an experienced and well-respected mentor is often perceived as a fast-track pathway to greater visibility within the company, giving them access to important assignments and projects that will lead to faster promotion.
Anyone can profess to be a mentor, but they are generally more effective when they sit higher up the chain in roles such as board director, senior manager or team leader.
While senior employees may have the knowledge and experience to train staff, they require a specific outlook to effectively mentor and support.
Having talent, commitment and a long-serving history doesn’t necessarily mean an individual will be good at imparting knowledge, investing the required time, giving and receiving feedback and having the sometimes difficult conversations required to transform a mentee’s professional journey.
When senior employees are selected — either specifically by a mentee or by default due to their position — the fit may not always be right. Even senior employees can become insecure about their own position and overwhelmed by additional demands on their time. If the fit isn’t right, they can simply stop believing in themselves or the company.
Mismanagement in a mentor/mentee relationship can occur when guidance is centred around replicating the mentor’s own strengths or history rather than building on the mentee’s unique abilities. The upshot is a mentor carbon copy, which services no-one, the organisation included.
Getting a mentoring relationship right is critical. It is important that both parties get value from the arrangement, can realise opportunity for growth as individuals and can work together as a team.
Mentoring up allows mentees to become active participants in their mentoring relationships. Rather than just wait for guidance, mentees retain some autonomy and engage proactively with their mentors. This requires active listening, confidence and respectful communications from both sides.
The goal of a healthy mentor-mentee relationship is that the mentee out-grows their mentor — the student becomes the master. Good mentors understand this evolutionary change, aren’t threatened and take satisfaction in knowing they have made a difference.
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