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Becoming an Effective Mentoring LeaderProven Strategies for Building Excellence in Your Organization
By William J. Rothwell Peter Chee
McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.Copyright © 2013 William J. Rothwell and Peter Chee
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTHE MENTORING LEADER
"If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader." —John Quincy Adams, Second President of the United States
"Of the best leaders, the people only know they exist; the next best they love and praise; the next they fear; and the next they revile. When they do not command the people's faith, some will lose faith in them, and then they resort to oaths! But of the best when their task is accomplished, their work done, the people all remark, 'we have done it ourselves.'" —Lao-Tzu, Chinese philosopher, sixth century B.C.E.
The Story of Ali and Smith
We begin our book with a story, one told by our good friend, Sohail:
I know this young chap by the name of Ali. After graduating from university, he joined a management trainee program at a highly respected Asian company. There, he was placed under the tutelage, so to speak, of an expat named Smith.
Smith was an experienced, high-level executive at the company. Unfortunately, Ali found Smith to be, in his own words, "hypercritical." Pretty much everything he did "could be improved" and no compliments were forthcoming. Unsurprisingly, he called Smith a "jerk"—in private, of course. But they never confronted each other.
The situation became unbearable for Ali. He told himself that day: "Enough is enough." So he spoke with the HR people—discreetly, I should add—about his sorry state of affairs and his wish for a "mentor switch." Several days later, Ali received a call from HR. The HR person told him she would soon e-mail him a list of alternative mentors. She also pointed out that the list was generated by Smith, which Ali was disappointed to hear. His immediate reaction was "Smith probably made up this list on the fly. It's nothing more than a jerk list."
The list arrived, as promised. It contained the names of two, maybe three junior managers. Ali contacted the first name on the list—Chen—hesitantly. His fear and trepidation were, however, unfounded. Ali and Chen got along well. In fact, Ali liked Chen so much that he didn't even bother to talk to the other candidate mentors. The best part is, he learned a lot from Chen. Looking back, Ali shared this with me, "Smith's list wasn't a jerk list after all."
After two years or so, Ali felt that he had outgrown Chen's mentoring. He felt he was ready for bigger things. So he applied to join an in-house team doing a "special project." In Ali's company, if someone applied to such a thing and got accepted, he or she would automatically be considered a high potential. But Ali found out that Smith was on the selection committee and Smith was going to head the team as well. He was upset, to say the least. He was seriously thinking about withdrawing his application, but he finally decided to go through with it.
As expected, the selection process was tough. The poor boy was grilled, and Smith led the grilling. He thought he would never make the cut. But to his surprise, he did.
It wasn't the only surprise, though. Ali felt that working with Smith the second time around was different—different as in better. Smith was as tough as before, to be sure. What had changed was Ali, who felt he was more ready for Smith's tough style. Ali was ready to be pushed, and Smith pushed him hard.
Ali also changed his perception about Smith. He figured that Smith had had his best interest at heart all along.
"What's the evidence?" I asked him.
He cited the jerk list which turned out to be a great list. He also gave me another clue: He discovered that Smith had advocated for his inclusion on the special project team.
"OK, but what about all the hypercritical things that Smith said earlier?"
"Ah, that's a non-issue. Smith could have gone a bit easy on a newbie like me, to be sure. But at the same time, I wasn't ready professionally myself to handle that sort of heat back then. I can now say to him, professionally and confidently, 'Bring it on.'"
"So, would you now consider Smith as your mentor?" I inquired.
"Absolutely" was his reply. It was immediate and without any hint of reservation.
When the special project ended, the two unofficially extended their mentoring relationship. In fact, they are mentor and mentee up till today.
"Now that's a great mentoring story, wouldn't you say?" Sohail asked, somewhat rhetorically. We nodded in agreement. It wasn't a perfect mentorship, to be sure. (Nothing in this world is perfect, anyway.) Despite missteps along the way by both mentor and mentee, it's a great mentorship nonetheless because it worked in the end and is still working.
After a brief moment of silence, one of us said, "Ali's something of a decent mentee." Again, we nodded. The way Ali reframed his reality was certainly noteworthy.
Another remarked, "Don't forget Smith. Smith was great too. He was a mentoring leader."
"A mentoring leader," mused Sohail, "now that's an interesting phrase."
It's interesting indeed and most relevant to this book.
The Mentoring Leader
A mentoring leader is simply "a leader who mentors." The two key words in this definition are mentoring and leader. Let's consider the latter first.
The word leader can refer to anyone who directs people they are responsible for in the workplace. If you have one or more individuals reporting to you, you are a leader. And we're sure many of you are already one. Leaders influence other people.
Mentoring, on the other hand, means teaching and/or advising. It also involves what we call "uplifting behaviors"—namely inspiring, motivating, and encouraging. Its core purpose is to enable the mentee's growth. (The "mentee" is the person the mentor mentors.)
In the opening story, Smith wasn't a perfect mentor. For example, he inadvertently made life miserable for Ali. Nevertheless, he did do the important things right. He didn't take Ali's complaint personally. Although Ali was said to have interacted with HR discreetly, a veteran like Smith could tell it's a complaint—how else would one describe the premature termination of a mentoring relationship? Smith could have done something vindictive toward Ali. But he did no such thing. Instead, he provided Ali with a list of alternative mentors. These alternatives were more junior and more appropriate for a newbie like Ali. Smith was tough on the surface. But Ali looked beneath it and saw the good Smith was trying to do. Smith is without doubt a mentoring leader.
Other better-known mentoring leaders include Jack Welch, the former CEO of GE, and Lou Gerstner, the former CEO of IBM. They are better-known largely because they led huge and successful organizations.
Can you be a mentoring leader? Of course, you can. In fact, you should. Here's why: When we meet with company executives, we often hear this refrain: "We want our (positional) leaders to mentor." In other words, many of today's organizations want mentoring leaders.
If you are one, you are in demand and organizations are prepared to recognize or reward you for your effort. According to Allen, Lentz, and Day (2006), mentors tend to:
Make more money than nonmentors.
Get promoted more often than nonmentors.
Enjoy greater career success than nonmentors.
Besides those three benefits, there are others as well. Ensher and Murphy (2005) have compiled one such list:
A mentor gains satisfaction and pride in seeing mentees grow.
A mentor wins the respect of others and enjoys "reputation enhancement."
A mentor can learn new things from his or her mentee.
A mentor can build a support network consisting of past and present mentees.
Many organizations are committed to mentoring. In the United Kingdom, for instance, the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD) found in a survey that:
79 percent of respondents reported that they now use mentoring and coaching in their organizations.
61 percent of respondents reported that mentoring and coaching interventions had been effective.
99 percent felt that coaching and mentoring can deliver tangible benefits to both individuals and organizations.
92 percent agreed that when mentoring and coaching processes are managed effectively they have a positive impact on the organization's bottom line.
Mentoring at Agilent
Agilent has a Next Generation Leadership program in which mentoring figures prominently. As part of the strategic planning process, Agilent leaders consider talent requirements and plan to use mentoring to help meet those requirements. The program seeks to match talented people with senior managers as prospective mentors. Mentoring is part of the Agilent Sharing Knowledge (ASK) framework which aims to speed up an individual's "time to competence." An assumption is that knowledge sharing can help speed up the time it takes to make a worker productive.
Source: Adapted from R. Emelo, "Conversations with mentoring leaders," T + D (June 2011): 34.
All these benefits are sure to excite any sensible and forward-thinking individual—or leader. Use the tool appearing in Exhibit 1-1 to assess your own interest in mentoring.
Exhibit 1-1: Mentor Self-Assessment
Directions: Use this tool to assess your interest in mentoring. For each item in the left column, rate how much you agree in the right column. Use the following scale in the right column: 0 = Not applicable to me; 1 = No agreement at all; 2 = Not much agreement; 3 = Some agreement; 4 = Much agreement; 5 = Very much agreement. Although answers are not right or wrong in any absolute sense, use the scores at the end of this self-assessment to do some self-reflection on your willingness to be a mentor.
50–41 You feel motivated to be a mentor and feel the value of it.
40–31 You feel some motivation to be a mentor and realize some benefits.
30–21 You have a lukewarm attitude about being a mentor.
20–11 You don't feel much motivation to be a mentor despite the possible benefits to be gained from it.
10–0 You feel no motivation to be a mentor and probably would not be successful if you tried it out.
The question is: What is it that mentoring leaders can do for organizations? For starters, they can contribute to the following:
Support new employees
Identify talented employees
Develop and retain talented employees
Let's look at each of these three contributions briefly.
Mentoring Leaders Can Support New Employees
When people join a new workplace, they want to feel welcomed, which is true for most, if not all, people. It doesn't matter whether it's their first job or their last one before retirement. On top of that, they also want to be able to hit the ground running.
Mentoring leaders can facilitate and accelerate this transition. For example, the mentor can plug the mentee into a workplace network and this human network can provide the mentee with the necessary support, information, and resources to get his or her work done. By doing so, the mentor helps to transform the outsider into an insider and the new hire into an effective contributor, all within a comparatively short period of time.
Mentoring Leaders Can Identify Talented Employees
The phrase talented employees can refer to people who are more productive than their coworkers and who can and want to be promoted. They can be workers who are not yet positional leaders or current positional leaders who are ready for bigger things.
If you have the right tools, you can identify productive workers easily. The second part is, however, less straightforward. For example, it's possible to have people who can be promoted but who don't want to be. On the other hand, some people are technically competent but are not good at managing other people—they cannot be promoted.
Mentoring leaders can help to solve this human-capital puzzle, because mentoring is fundamentally a relationship, which means mentors have ample opportunities to observe their mentees up close. They know what makes their mentees tick and are in a good position to assess whether they are promotion material and whether they want a promotion. In short, mentoring leaders make great talent scouts.
Mentoring Leaders Can Develop and Help Retain Talented Employees
One common reason given to explain why talented employees leave their organizations is that they feel they are "not getting enough development." When asked to define development, these employees include the things that help prepare them for a higher-level job. Hence, one of the things organizations can do to prevent a talent exodus is to develop talent continually, and mentoring is a great way to do so. Research also suggests that people who are involved in a mentoring relationship with an intra-organizational mentor are less likely to quit their current jobs (Allen, Finkelstein, and Poteet, 2009).
These three mentor-related contributions ensure that an organization's talent pipeline is sustainable. And as management writers John Hagel, John Seely Brown, and Lang Davison assert, "Talent is everything" (2009, emphasis added).
Other mentoring-related benefits at the organizational level include organizational attractiveness and knowledge management.
Job applicants tend to find organizations with an established mentoring program more attractive than those without one (Allen and O'Brien, 2006). That's because the presence of a mentoring program signals that the organization cares about its people and wants to develop them.
Mentoring helps to retain and/or disseminate useful organizational knowledge (Murrell, Forte-Trammell, and Bing, 2009). It can be most useful in knowledge transfer efforts, an area of growing importance in talent management (Rothwell, 2011).
The Road Ahead
You've already seen how mentoring leaders can benefit organizations, mentees, and themselves. If you are already a positional leader, you may be asking the question: How do I mentor? But before you answer that question, we encourage you to seriously consider another question: Are you ready to mentor?
That question isn't as simple as it sounds. According to experts, one's readiness to mentor is a function of one's ability and willingness to mentor. If you want to be a good mentor, both factors are essential.
In the next chapter, we will look at the question of ability and consider it from a macro- level perspective. That is, we'll be dealing with the "what does a mentor do" question rather than the "how does the mentor do what he or she is supposed to do" question (i.e., the micro-level perspective). This approach is necessary because of confusion over the words mentor and mentoring, and clarification is in order.
Finally, one must address the issue of willingness: just because you can doesn't mean you want to. How can you know for sure that you want to? At the same time, in what ways can we boost our willingness? We will consider these questions in Chapter 3.
Chapter TwoTHE JOB DESCRIPTION
"Now, there is one outstandingly important fact regarding mentoring, and that is that no job description comes with it." —The ITD Mentoring Team
A parody of a R. Buckminster Fuller quote, with apologies
Going Back to Basics
What does a mentor do?
The answer to that question should be straightforward, but the mentoring literature has unfortunately complicated matters. Over the years, people from all walks of life have attached layers of meanings to the words mentor and mentoring. The cumulative result of these actions is confusion, with virtually no agreement on the meaning of the word. Garvey (2004) has even suggested that we will never reach consensus. Hence, defining the word seems to be something of a fool's errand. Nevertheless, define it we must, because a clear definition is required in every context; and every context includes this book. Otherwise, you wouldn't know what we mean whenever we use the word mentor.
Here's how we arrived at our definition. First, we peeled away the layers of meanings built up over time. To do so, we went back to the basics. "Basics" in this case meant the ordinary dictionary. Typically, a dictionary provides the most rudimentary definitions of words that are in use today; it was thus a natural ally in our effort to get rid of the layers. And since we are users of American English, we selected the authoritative Webster's New World College Dictionary (Fourth Edition) as our reference.
Dutifully, the dictionary provided us with two definitions:
A "wise, loyal advisor"
A "teacher or coach"
In sum, the mentor's job is to advise or to teach/coach.
The first part of the job description—advising—is clear-cut. The second part, however, is confusing: Is the mentor a teacher or coach?
In today's workplace, we tend to think of teaching as a directive way of helping people (i.e., it involves a lot of telling) and coaching as a nondirective way of helping people (i.e., it involves a lot of asking). In other words, the two are worlds apart and don't quite belong together. But Ives (2008) looked into the history of coaching and found that teaching and coaching were once upon a time closely linked—namely, coaching was in the past directive. Given the historical links, it is not so much of a surprise to see the dictionary lump the two together.
It is worth noting that, even though teachers in Asian cultures are often directive, the same is not true in Western cultures. In fact, the greatest teacher of Western culture was (arguably) Socrates. The Socratic method involved asking questions. In short, Socrates did not lecture to his students, but rather used questioning to shape their thinking and encourage them to think for themselves.
Nevertheless, experience tells us that teaching may play a more prominent role than coaching in today's mentoring. But that doesn't mean teaching and coaching are mutually exclusive; that is, it is not an either/or sort of situation. (See the Mentors and Coaches in Today's Workplace feature for a brief discussion on this issue.)
Excerpted from Becoming an Effective Mentoring Leader by William J. Rothwell Peter Chee Copyright © 2013 by William J. Rothwell and Peter Chee. Excerpted by permission of McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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