My associate, Jessica McMullen, brought to my attention a thoughtful, well-written article by Lindsey Dunn entitled, “Mentoring is Critical to Organizational Longevity — So Why Is It Such a Struggle?” She suggests that, “… great mentorship requires two broad things: demonstrating great leadership so that others can learn from your behavior, and championing others.” In this post I add my thoughts about great mentors and what you can do to foster more and better mentoring in your organization.
As I’ve written in previous posts, performing at a high level of excellence in any endeavor requires the aptitudes, gifts or talents relevant to that endeavor. Mentoring is no different. One can acquire the competencies to mentor others at some undistinguished level of performance, but excellence requires the foundation of aptitude.
Here are some characteristics of people who have the potential to become great mentors:
They can spot potential in others
No leader can mentor a great number of people at any one time. Therefore, the leader must make good decisions about how (and in whom) he or she will invest their time.
They receive intrinsic satisfaction from cultivating true mentoring relationships
Just being in this kind of relationship is genuinely enjoyable in and of itself. This is like a musician who loves playing music — just for the joy of playing. In a true mentoring relationship the parties enjoy each other’s company. Consequently, they look forward to spending time with each other. Often (but not necessarily) they become good friends.
The mentor gladly embraces the risk of being the mentee’s champion
The mentor takes a stand. Make no mistake about the professional risk involved here. The mentor personally endorses this individual, and this endorsement is based on a profound conviction about the potential of the mentee. Strong mutual loyalty emerges.
The mentor intentionally seeks opportunities for the mentee to develop his or her potential
The mentor proactively seeks assignments that will challenge and stretch the mentee to grow into their potential. Often, the championship mentioned above is important for securing these opportunities.
The mentee’s development and success is deeply fulfilling for the mentor
Development is the goal. Success is the by-product. The mentor is proud of the mentee’s accomplishments and knows that he or she has contributed. This is similar to a parent’s pride in the child’s successes.
As Ms. Dunn points out, true mentoring relationships cannot be assigned. They must emerge organically, based on the intentions of both parties. In true mentoring relationships, both parties grow.
So, how can you strengthen and expand mentoring in your organization? The most powerful strategy is to select and promote more executives and managers who have the potential to become truly excellent mentors. Take a hard look at your selection criteria. If excellence in mentoring isn’t on your list, there’s a clue about why you don’t have more and better mentors. In selection, if you hold out for executives who enjoy mentoring and are good at it (they don’t grow on trees, by the way) you won’t need a formal program. They’ll do it because they enjoy it.
Do you recognize and reward the good mentors in your organization? Is it addressed in performance evaluations of mid-level managers as well as executives? If not, there’s another clue.
So you can have all the mentoring training you want. If you don’t select people who are high potential in terms of mentoring talent, if you don’t recognize and reward it, and if you don’t include it in performance evaluations — you won’t make much progress in your goal to strengthen and expand mentoring in your organization.
Thanks to my associate, Jessica McMullen, for suggesting this topic.
And thanks for reading. As always, I’m interested in your thoughts.