The Importance of Mentoring

Do you Mentor anyone?  Let me say upfront that I believe in mentoring. I think it benefits individuals, organizations, and the mentors themselves. Effective mentoring takes time and planning, but it makes a measureable difference. So, I want to share my thoughts and experiences to persuade you that the effort mentoring requires is worth it.

What is mentoring?
Mentoring is a knowledge sharing relationship between an experienced professional and some one more junior in the organization. A mentoring relationship may be formal—defined as mentor/mentee— with official meetings and planned activities or informal. In the past, informal mentoring relationships were the norm.

In the olden days, senior managers or technologists identified individuals with potential to move up (we called this succession planning). These individuals were taken under the wing of a more senior person who spent extra time with them, offered insights and advice, and shepherded the mentee into work experiences that helped extend and polish their skills.

Today, there are classes and books on “How to be a Mentor”. Amazon has almost 50,000 returns for the search term “mentoring”. Even the government has information on the subject like the State of New York’s PM Mentor program.  Although these resources are likely have to many valuable bits of advice, I do not think a Ph.D. in mentoring is an essential starting point. Rather, if you have been mentored, ask yourself what was useful, what did you learn, what else do you wish had been part of the process. If you did not have the benefit of a mentor, what tips, tricks, and processes do you wish someone had shared with you before you picked them up in the school of hard knocks?

Benefits of mentoring
To the organization–succession planning is just one benefit. The mentor shares with the mentee how to do a job well within the confines and constructs of the organization. Those observed, practiced, and honed skills developed under the tutelage of the mentor make a mentee immediately more useful to that organization.

Mentees must commit time and effort beyond the average employee to benefit from the mentoring relationship. The experience gained and the personal relationship with the mentor creates a deeper bond with the organization that promotes employee retention and satisfaction.

Another benefit is that the mentee can become an effective mentor later in their careers.

To the mentee–Brian Price at Project Management Mentoring offers this observation, “When I was cutting my teeth as a new project manager, I was constantly making things up and trying to do what I thought I needed to do…I would have loved to have a project management mentor to help me do the right things at the right time.”

  • Mentors can systematically enhance classroom knowledge and academic guidelines.
  • Mentors offer their mentees a wise ear that can help unravel problems and find solutions.
  • Mentors help mentees become aware of self defeating behaviors that keep them from reaching their full potential.
  • Mentors contribute feedback that is outside the management and performance review process.
  • Mentors extend career guidance and exposure to assignments that develop management and professional skills more quickly.
  • Mentors provide access to people, meetings, and other learning opportunities.

To the mentor–Interacting with and shaping the development of intelligent, motivated young people is rewarding. You will feel good seeing the impact you are having. You will also learn about the organization from a perspective that perhaps you have forgotten.

You may be training your replacement—allowing you to move up in the organization while remaining confident that your legacy is in good hands.

Mentoring tips and techniques

  • Schedule time to meet with your mentee. You can have a formal time slot with a general idea of what needs to be discussed or just a piece of time you carve out of your schedule to touch base. Do this at least monthly.
  • Meetings with your mentee should be one-on-one with some privacy.
  • Ask questions.
  • Listen.
  • Do not turn your meetings into status reports. Your goal is building skills. The meetings should focus on observations, experiences, and ideas.
  • Be willing to talk about yourself and your philosophy. For example, talk about how you make decisions or what you’re thinking about the issues on your plate right now.
  • Invite your mentee to sit in as an observer in high-level meetings. Talk with them afterward about what they saw and thought happened. Add your own insights.
  • Give feedback on your observations of the mentee’s skills and behaviors—build their confidence to tackle ever more challenging situations.
  • Encourage them to learn.
  • Encourage them to try new things—to stretch their skills into more responsible positions or different areas of the organization.

I have personally benefitted from mentoring by working with talented, seasoned professionals who have freely shared their knowledge with me during my career. I have also had the fortune to mentor many younger software developers, managers and project managers. I delight in seeing them become more comfortable, more productive and enjoying their work more. How about you? What has been your experience with mentoring? What advice can you share?

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