Most companies around the globe clearly believe that people should have the opportunity to achieve as much as their initiative and native talent can justify, but too many managers still lack the wherewithal to effectively groom junior employees who have the potential to climb the corporate ladder. The support of a mentor is an integral part of any effort to maximize someone's full potential. A mentor-protégé relationship has many unique features, which both sides of the relationship need to understand and appreciate. Serving in the role of mentor to protégés involves providing highly individualized guidance from someone with the appropriate background, life, and work experiences and, importantly, an avid interest in helping others reach their life and career goals.
9 Powerful Practices of Really Great Mentors features a set of proven techniques for those who serve as mentors in a variety of contexts, but particularly in the workplace.
This new title completes a trilogy of practical books on management skills along with 9 Powerful Practices of Really Great Bosses and 9 Powerful Practices of Really Great Teams by these two highly acclaimed authors.
About the Author
Stephen Kohn is president of Work & People Solutions, a prominent human resources management, leadership development, and executive coaching firm. He is one of the most senior and experienced executive coaches in the country, having advised senior managers on their leadership style for more than two decades. His firm' s clients have included The Guardian Life Insurance Company, BMW USA, and Ernst & Young. Kohn is an adjunct professor of management at Long Island University, teaching MBA courses focused on work, people, and productivity. He lives in Briarcliff Manor, NY.
Vincent D. O'Connell is Asia regional director for international training and performance management consultants Globecon Institute. He creates and delivers customized curricula for corporate clients in Asia and the United States, particularly in the areas of emotionally intelligent leadership practices, performance management, key account management, and team building. O'Connell splits his time between McLean, Virginia, and Bangkok, Thailand.
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Mentoring: Defining a Complex, Challenging Role
"I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description ... and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it."
— Justice Potter Stewart, concurring opinion in Jacobellis v. Ohio 378 U.S. 184 (1964), regarding possible obscenity in The Lovers
As a prospective or current mentor, you are intrigued by the opportunity to perform in this professional role. Perhaps, as in most cases, you were mentored yourself, and you have experienced firsthand the value of being guided by a more senior individual in the career field you have chosen. Now that you have reached a point where you believe you have something special to offer a more junior person with professional interests similar to your own, the mentor role seems like a logical and enticing way to round out a career characterized by continuous learning and steady professional growth. It is time to "pay it forward" by providing career knowledge and guidance, and you want to do it as effectively as possible.
Once you identify that the mentor role is one you hope to play, you might ask, "How can I best help a prospective mentee? What methods should I apply to best share my background and experience, and impart the valuable wisdom I possess to the next generation?" Mentoring methods need to align with prior positive results shown through effective practice in the mentoring role. But the role is a complex one, with an unusually broad set of defining characteristics. The process of developing one's competency as a mentor involves such a broad array of sub-skills that it is truly difficult to know where to begin.
The many similar roles performed by helping and instructional professionals make it challenging to truly differentiate the essential defining characteristics of a mentor. The following list identifies 12 other support roles with striking similarities to the type of support that mentors provide.
Roles With Highly Similar Fundamental Skillsets to Mentoring
To mentor effectively, you will need to possess and strengthen all the fundamental skills common to these types of professionals who are in the business of providing help, guidance, and support (we discuss these skills in greater depth in the next chapter). But how do we gain an understanding of mentor-specific attributes, in order to differentiate the skills needed to be as effective as possible in this particular and unique role?
Perhaps great mentoring is the same as Justice Stewart's famous perception of obscenity, quoted at the beginning of this chapter: it is hard to define, but we know it when we see it — or experience it. Mentoring creates an emotional connection that is rather unique to the teaching, guidance, and professional support process. We have found that the true nature of mentoring is embedded within the following statement a mentee might make:
"S/he is more than a [insert a role from the previous list] to me — s/he is my mentor."
If this type of statement resonates with meaning to those of us who hear it, there must be a slight but distinguishable difference in the mentor role from these other helping and support roles. We need to focus on how the term mentor implies an expansion of the defining elements of all those previously listed helping, learning, and support roles. If our hypothetical mentee's statement has meaning, then the mentor provides a little something extra. We will try to drill into some definitions of mentoring to uncover what those "something extra" qualities really are.
Certainly, there has been no lack of attempts to clarify a common definition for the mentor role. But which definition helps uncover those "something extras"? Here are some definitions of a mentor or mentoring that we uncovered in the relevant literature:
* Mentor (n): An experienced and trusted advisor. (Oxford English Dictionary)
* Mentoring is offline help by one person to another in making significant transitions in knowledge, work, or thinking. (Megginson and Clutterbuck 2005)
* A mentor is someone who helps another person to become what that person aspires to be. (Montreal CEGEP definition, cited in Kagans and Kram 2007)
* Mentoring is a reciprocal, long-term relationship with an emotional commitment that exists between a novice (protégé) and an experienced professional (mentor); mentoring implies a knowledge or competence gradient, in which the teaching–learning process contributes to a sharing of advice or expertise, role development, and formal and informal support to influence the career of the protégé. (Mariani 2012)
* A mentor is someone who serves variously as teacher, sponsor, advisor, and model: as teacher in enhancing the mentee's skills and intellectual development; as sponsor in using his or her influence to facilitate the protégé's entry and early advancement in the field they both inhabit; as host and guide, in helping to initiate the mentee into a new occupational and social world, acquainting him or her with its values, customs, resources, and cast of characters; as advisor, providing counsel, moral support, and direction; and through his or her own virtues, achievements, and lifestyle, serving as an exemplar whom the protégé can seek to emulate. (Wiltshire 1998)
In order to give the mentor role definition proper justice, it cannot be as simple as the Oxford Dictionary definition offers. Mentoring is certainly about advising and embodying trustworthiness, but these attributes apply to almost any helping or support role. So the dictionary definition does not really help us understand the true nature of the mentoring role.
The element of Megginson and Clutterbuck's definition of mentoring involving "offline help" is an apt contribution to understanding the more unique features of the mentoring role and the mentor–protégé relationship. Defining mentoring as "offline help" implies that the mentor–protégé relationship is enacted when both parties are able to convey their respective shared commitment to the mentoring process by dedicating time to it when not performing one's "day job," so to speak. Mentor–protégé interactions need extra time to provide emotional space for both parties to thoroughly process the information being discussed. Dedicated "offline" support offers opportunities to add real value within the relationship's give and take. This definition implies less direct accountability for how the process is enacted and the timing of its positive outcomes. Mentoring, therefore, can be differentiated from a teacher who must grade the mentee/student at a set milestone every semester, an athletic coach who strives to win games or events while developing the potential of a mentee/athlete, and managers/supervisors who must rate performance and direct day-to-day work assignments of a mentee/subordinate.
Indeed, an athletic coach is not going to seek to perform in a mentoring role for a team member or an assistant coach while making judgments during the final minutes of a tie game, when the intensity of the competition captures the coach's full attention. He or she will tend to engage in mentoring opportunities on an off day, or mid-week, say, when a practice session is over. Similarly, a business-focused mentor–protégé relationship may occur after work hours or on weekends, away from the pressures and intensity of day-to-day performance deadlines and meeting customer demands.
Another aspect of the core essence of mentoring suggested by Megginson and Clutterbuck's definition is that this activity involves addressing "significant transitions." This implies that mentoring is characterized by the need to contemplate or work through some type of major change or movement in the mentee's life or career, such as a new job, a career advancement opportunity, or a need to cope with a major organizational change like a merger, restructuring, or downsizing. The mentor is a sounding board and advisor about how to best manage oneself amid such transitions, bolstering the protégé's adaptability to the numerous and inevitable transitions that occur throughout one's career (especially careers that involve taking on more leadership responsibility).
Consequently, when a helping- and learning-focused support role addresses issues involving taking the next career step, adding skills to achieve new or higher levels of responsibility, or exploring new professional terrain, an environment exists for mentoring to occur. This addresses the support for achievement of aspirations identified as defining mentoring by the Montreal CEGEP (Collège d'Enseignement Général et Professionnel, or College of General and Vocational Education), as it is these "next steps" to which a mentee typically aspires.
The reciprocal emotional commitment that exists between a novice and an experienced professional is another defining element of a relationship in which mentoring can be delivered. Certainly, when novices label individuals who have guided them as more than their official role (teacher, coach, advisor, and so on), but as a "mentor to me," the resonance implied in the mentee's characterization of the guidance being received contains a strong emotional component. The intensity of emotional commitment in the healthy mentor–protégé relationship is different from what one might typically have with the individual performing other types of helping or support roles. Mentoring can have an almost paternal or maternal emotional characterization, a shared emotional commitment to the mentoring relationship that leaves mentees feeling uniquely cared-for and understood. But instead of being performed in a family-based context, mentoring is delivered in the context of personal and professional development. The emotional commitment engenders gratitude from mentees for their mentor's willingness to dedicate time and commitment to their growth and future prospects within his or her chosen field, and a reciprocal paternalistic or maternalistic satisfaction from the mentor in the mentees' growth and achievement.
Mentees' emotional commitment is evident in the trust they place in their mentors and in the mentoring process, which is enhanced by the sharing that characterizes this process. It is essential that mentors recognize that they are in a trusting relationship. Their behavior must always reflect an understanding that mentoring only works when trust is evident in the mentoring process. Every powerful practice of effective mentoring we recommend has at its foundation a sincere and abiding mutual trust between protégé and mentor.
Indeed, mentoring involves building a relationship that matters a great deal to both parties. It is a relationship that engenders sincere reciprocal satisfaction when events demonstrate that the relationship is effective. Consequently, the mentor must be prepared to make an emotional commitment to the relationship being established with a mentee. By an emotional commitment, we mean a readiness to care about what is occurring in the relationship and the results achieved, and to be comfortable with having a stake in the mentee's professional growth (versus keeping one's emotional distance, as supervisors at work might do in order not to appear to have favorites among their direct reports). In short, mentoring is characterized by a willingness to make an emotional connection to the mentee, and to be committed to supporting the mentee's welfare and future.
To actualize this emotional commitment to the relationship, mentors and protégés must see the bond as long term. Both parties need to feel that the relationship has "legs," that it can endure despite occasional disruptions or obstacles that may emerge. For example, if one of the parties moves to a different geographic location, the relationship may turn into one that is conducted by telephone or Web tools such as Skype, but it continues. Mentoring relationships often last for a life-time — or at least a professional lifetime. They do not have to, but the fact that they can and often do extend throughout one's career shows that it is a process that tends by definition to be longer-term. This characteristic of mentoring differentiates it from guidance focused primarily on immediate or short-term goals, which ends once those goals are met.
In her definition of mentoring, Mariani brings up the concept of the need for guidance along a competence gradient. Mentees seek more senior individuals for insightful teaching and advice because the profession they have chosen requires additional and more refined competencies as they works their way up the ladder to achieve success at the higher levels. Perhaps the best way to understand this defining aspect of mentoring is to consider the converse assumption: mentoring is neither required nor in demand if the mentee's learning curve is relatively flat in his or her profession, even if a "next level" within the profession might be available. The more junior individual in this circumstance may seek occasional counsel or spot advice from a more senior individual, but it would be hard to characterize this relationship as mentoring.
The competence gradient that helps define the objectives of mentoring also implies that the relationship tends to be between seasoned, experienced, senior-level individuals (who perform mentoring) and inexperienced, relatively junior-level individuals (who are their protégés). Great mentors are those who have reached a point in their career in which their competencies are higher on a profession's competence scale than others with whom they have contact. In such a circumstance, a senior professional's identity includes an implicit responsibility to develop the potential in those who demonstrate the capability to achieve the same types of goals to which they too had aspired at an earlier age. Mentoring is an activity performed by those who wish to make a contribution to future generations, which concomitantly helps professionals address internal altruistic needs that have often been unfulfilled at earlier stages of their careers.
In short, the best mentors are those who, because they have achieved a more senior level in their profession, embrace a responsibility to help others master what they have had to master. It is a process integral to most healthy cultures all around the world, related to elders passing on valuable knowledge to the next generation. A defining aspect of being a mentor is more than arranging to be of service to an individual with less knowledge and experience than you — it is a self-actualizing process that helps engender a sense of accomplishment and credibility as a master of one's profession.
Wiltshire's more comprehensive definition of mentoring adds the notion that this role is multidimensional and, by inference, adaptive to different mentee needs as they emerge. The intrinsic multidimensionality of mentoring means that performing the role requires an appreciation that any of the four primary functions — teacher, sponsor, advisor, and model — might be the most valuable to perform at any given point in the mentee's development. At one time, the mentor might be most valuable introducing the protégé to key influencers in their field, or offering the protégé an opportunity to lead a project to promote his or her professional visibility. Here, the mentor is fulfilling his or her sponsorship role. In another instance, the educator–pupil dyad might be the best use of the mentor and protégé's time, for example, with the mentor teaching about methods he or she has found effective, and the protégé acting as the attentive learner who takes mental notes to which he or she can refer back when likely to attempt the mentor's suggested method.
Mentoring is also about providing direction and serving as an advisor on a range of topics about which the more junior mentee seeks guidance. Actually, the term mentor appears first in this context: In ancient Greek mythology, the character Mentor guided and advised the young novice Telemachus at the behest of Ulysses (Odysseus), King of Ithaca. Ulysses had left his wife, Penelope, and infant son, Telemachus, in the hands of Mentor, his friend and retainer, as he went to make war on the Trojans. Mentor's role was embellished by the fact that Athena, the supreme goddess of the Greeks, took on the form of Mentor to Telemachus. Athena as Mentor appeared especially when things looked particularly bleak or confusing for Telemachus, or when critical choices had to be made. Athena embodied good counsel, prudent restraint, and practical insight. To a major degree Mentor was responsible not only for the boy's education (the teacher role), but for the shaping of his character, the wisdom of his decisions, and the clarity and steadfastness of his purpose (the advisor role).(Continues…)
Excerpted from "9 Powerful Practices of Really Great Mentors"
Copyright © 2015 Stephen E. Kohn and Vincent D. O'Connell.
Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Foreword Dr. Lynn Johnson 11
Chapter 1 Mentoring: Defining a Complex, Challenging Role 19
Chapter 2 Fundamentals of Effective Mentoring 35
Chapter 3 Mentoring at Work: Advantages and Challenges 49
Chapter 4 Effective Matching of Mentor and Protégé 61
Chapter 5 Mentoring as Both Career and Psychosocial Support 79
Chapter 6 Powerful Practice #1 of Really Great Mentors: Model Emotional Intelligence 97
Chapter 7 Powerful Practice #2 of Really Great Mentors: Initially, Explore Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation 113
Chapter 8 Powerful Practice #3 of Really Great Mentors: Build Rapport Through Understanding of Different People Styles 123
Chapter 9 Powerful Practice #4 of Really Great Mentors: Identify and Pursue Stretch Goals 135
Chapter 10 Powerful Practice #5 of Really Great Mentors: Reinforce the Importance of Safeguarding Credibility 145
Chapter 11 Powerful Practice #6 of Really Great Mentors: Foster Strategic Thinking 155
Chapter 12 Powerful Practice #7 of Really Great Mentors: Encourage the Protégé to Draft an Initial Mentoring Plan, on His or Her Own 169
Chapter 13 Powerful Practice #8 of Really Great Mentors: Identify and Leverage Teachable Moments 177
Chapter 14 Powerful Practice #9 of Really Great Mentors: Reinforce the Value of Lifelong Learning 187
Chapter 15 Approaches to Mentor Training 195
Appendix: Common Questions Asked About Performing in the Mentoring Role 207
About the Authors 221