(Some years ago, I did a guest blog on mentoring. The topic came up on Twitter recently and while that original guest blog is no longer online, I found the final draft copy and so I re-publish it here. As I read this again and saw the note at the end, I also recalled my discussion of this topic with the late great Rich Brueckner, a capable exec and a dear friend who left us too early, and I remember how grateful he seemed to be that I had acknowledged our conversations in this blog. Fine man, and sorely missed.)
I have been fortunate, over the course of my career, to benefit from the wisdom and guidance of fantastic mentors: great men and women who are impressively good in so many ways. I feel lucky to have met them, and lucky that either they took an interest in me or I made it a point to learn from them.
I suspect many of you, and I hope all of you, have similar experiences. In fact, a persuasive argument can be made that no one gets anywhere without a mentor.
From a mentor’s perspective, there are a few ways one can look at mentoring:
- A deliberate process to get the best out of everyone to the benefit of everyone
- Helping advance a deserving individual, doing the right thing
- An opportunity to influence future leaders in your image, thus extending your power
- As a 3rd dimension to managing and leading, offering a less structured but important kind of organizational relationship, helping achieve the needed balance between growing all employees and cultivating future leaders.
- As a method to create a more comprehensive learning organization. In the old days, apprenticeship was the way to learn a craft as a profession, not just a set of skills.
- Self improvement. Learning to be a good mentor makes you a better leader. A mentor serves a critical role in society, a “Guardian” in terms of character archetypes.
From a mentee’s perspective, a mentor can be
- A catalyst for advancement
- A trusted advisor/teacher who can help you achieve better self-awareness and grow as a person
- A source of knowledge for the kind of information that is necessary but typically unavailable
- A person who sees your potential as you see it! Someone who likes you and would sponsor you.
At the core of mentoring is “trust.” The mentee’s ego is protected, thus making it easier to consider the mentor’s advice, suggestions for improvement, critique or even criticism.
Mentoring as a formal or informal part of the corporate world has a material impact on the direction and fortunes of a company. And I believe as managers and leaders, we do provide implicit mentoring to all according to what we perceive to be their potential and their interest in being mentored.
What is an organic, self-selecting, and mutual phenomenon does not lend itself to too well to formalization and institutionalization. But certainly an environment can be created to foster, facilitate, and reward good mentoring, treating it as we do management excellence and leadership.
Self Awareness and Personal Growth
My focus as a mentor or a mentee has been on self awareness and personal growth. I have used formalized personal development programs as a framework for mentoring and vice-versa. While there are several ways to evaluate things, I usually focus on the following four items, which seem to cover most of the ground:
- Mindset and behavior
- Learning agility/style
- Recognition by others, employees, peers, and superiors, but especially the latter
My observation is that there is ample emphasis on skillset and recognition, and not nearly enough on mindset and learning style. Discussions of mindset, behavior, intangible qualities of leaders, can be difficult, as is finding ways to make changes that the mentee would desire. The effective ways a person learns (by doing, looking over someone’s shoulders, taking a class, reading, meditation, etc.) can help in tailoring a specific plan for each person.
All of this is especially important in our diverse multi-cultural industry where skillsets are rather clear cut but mindsets can be the result of complex value systems and social norms. Sometimes certain aspects of the behavior that is required for success in one culture is ineffective in another. (The possible convergence of cultures is something I will leave to a separate discussion.)
Being a mentee requires great self-awareness, willingness to grow, actual growth, recognition of that growth, and practice to be the ultimate leader. Mentors accelerate such a transformation and arguably make it possible.
Acknowledgement: I would like to thank Rich Brueckner for his ideas and our exchanges regarding mentoring as a social archetype.
Shahin is a technology analyst and an active CxO, board member, and advisor. He serves on the board of directors of Wizmo (SaaS) and Massively Parallel Technologies (code modernization) and is an advisor to CollabWorks (future of work). He is co-host of the popular RadioFreeHPC (“Car Talk” of supercomputing), OrionX Download, and Afero IoT podcasts.