At the core of successful and thriving businesses and organizations are mentoring programs. These programs help bring newer team members onboard smoothly, and give them the best chance for success in the future.
There are certainly benefits on both sides of the equation. Mentees develop confidence and relationships. Mentors build leadership skills and develop coaching skills. Let’s explore what makes a good mentoring relationship, and if one side of the partnership benefits more than the other.
Fundamentals of a good mentor/mentee relationship
Building on shared foundational elements is essential to success in the mentoring relationship. While flexibility is certainly encouraged, it shouldn’t just be a fly by the seat of your pants arrangement. Achieving consistently positive results is a key to making the program work. To avoid having some mentor / mentee relationships work well while others fall flat, here are some tips for structuring your program.
Clearly define program expectations
It’s important to say upfront what is expected of all the program participants. This helps to avoid different preconceptions when people get started. When those preconceived ideas don’t match reality, it can cause conflict and a negative outcome.
For instance, if the mentee has an expectation of a high level of formality of the program, and the mentor acts informally, this can cause an issue. The mentee might be expecting handouts, a syllabus and a very academic presentation, where the mentor might just want to chat over coffee.
Instead, layout a suggested level of formality that fits with your company culture. If the environment is very laid back and collaborative, then make that tone clear upfront. Explain to mentees that they’ll be sitting down over coffee, or meeting for drinks after work with their mentor and they can go in whatever direction both parties agree upon.
If you have really specific goals of the program that extend beyond simply building relationships, then lay out some benchmarks to achieve. For example, an insurance brokerage might pair a mentor with a mentee to develop a list of potential clients. Someone who is new to insurance sales might not really understand all the different methods of building a list of potential leads. This workshop approach could yield a very specific result.
There’s all sorts of ways to structure a program, and even making it unstructured can be okay, as long as everyone knows what to expect going in.
Provide constructive feedback to mentees and mentors
One of the best ways to achieve successful outcomes in mentoring relationships is for the mentor to provide lots of constructive feedback. It’s essential to make sure your mentors understand that the goal of feedback is to build their mentee up, not tear them down.
The key is making sure that mentees know that their mentor will point out things they aren’t doing well, but suggest ways to do it better. Simply pointing out faults is a way to discourage people, but showing them tips, hacks and the right way of doing things builds them up!
This is where screening potential mentors is really important. Some people are skilled at coaching. They’ve been coached themselves, and they were inspired to carry on the process. Other people may not possess this skill.
There’s opportunities for growth all around us. So, even if a person doesn’t seem suited to being a mentor now, putting them in a role where they can mentor a more experienced person who can then give them feedback can potentially turn them into a mentoring asset, rather than someone you avoid for the task.
Build active listening skills
By now you probably know the difference between just hearing what someone says and the process of active listening. This skill is essential for the mentoring relationship
On the mentee side, they’ll need to be encouraged to listen, but ask questions and get clarification along the way. It’s all too easy for a mentor to simply state their opinion or explain how to do something, and while the words are heard by the mentee, they just don’t understand.
Have mentors lead by example. Encourage them to ask open-ended questions of their mentees, then actively listen. This can be done by stopping along the way and saying things like, “so, just so I’m clear, you’re saying that…” Or by diving deeper by saying, “Tell me a little more about that…” or, “Let’s unpack that…”
It should be clear to the mentee that they should do the same thing in reverse! This active listening not only makes sure everyone understands each other, but it builds a close communicative bond between the two parties.
To build trust between mentors and mentees, it’s important to regularly follow up on what was discussed in the sessions. This fosters a sense of accountability that makes sure that the lessons learned are put into action.
Thinking back to the insurance sales example. If the mentor and mentee worked together to find potential sources of clients, then it’s important that they reconvene to go over the list in the future. This way, the mentor can provide additional feedback which the mentee can use to hone the list.
Who benefits more? The mentor or mentee?
This is a great question, which leads to some interesting and productive discussions. The answer is, of course, it depends! Since human beings are intrinsically unique, the equation of never works out to a simple X is greater than Y answer.
Remember that the benefits of mentoring pay dividends for years down the road. It’s entirely possible that the inspiration a mentee received might not be truly felt until they are in a particular situation much later in their career.
Mentors benefit immensely by developing close relationships with their mentees. As the mentee grows into their role, the relationship can transition from a senior / junior relationship into one where two people can say they are “colleagues.” Of course, the same can be said in reverse of the mentee.
The important thing to focus on is that having a mentoring program creates a constructive and collaborative atmosphere that will take your company to new heights.
Living Pono is dedicated to communicating business management concepts with Hawaiian values. Founded by Kevin May, an established and successful leader and mentor, Living Pono is your destination to learn about how to live your life righteously and how that can have positive effects in your career. If you have any questions, please leave a comment below or contact us here. Also, join our mailing list below, so you can be alerted when a new article is released.
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