I was working with a group of senior managers recently and the discussion in the room was that several people were looking for mentors. These people had been told previously that they were high-potential, meaning they were seen as people with the ability to take on greater responsibility or move into bigger jobs in the future.
Mentoring was not the issue I had been brought in to work with them on, so I simply listened to the discussion.
Let me define mentoring. It is a process whereby someone with more experience or expertise agrees to work with a less-experienced person to develop that individual’s skill, perspective or capability.
Some companies have a formal process for identifying and training people to be mentors. The company may also take on the role of matching mentors and mentees. In other organizations the process is informal, spontaneous and organic.
In this second case, the scenario may be that I see someone within the organization who is very knowledgeable about a subject I want to know more about. I approach this person and ask if he/she would be willing to mentor me.
I think of mentoring as a bit like dancing, and for a couple of reasons. First, mentoring, like ballroom dancing, can be a little awkward at the beginning of the relationship (think of the first time two people are out on the dance floor together). Both the mentor and the mentee must take time to get to know each other and be explicit about their goals for, and expectations of, the relationship.
In dancing, you need one person to lead and the other to follow. People new to dancing often find that either both people are trying to lead = and stepping on each other’s toes - or no one is leading, resulting in no clear direction as to where to go or what to do next.
With the best dancers I have observed, there is clarity in what each role involves and how it is executed. This is much like an effective mentoring relationship. The what, where, when and how of the relationship needs to be clearly discussed.
While there is one leader in a dance team, at least on the dance floor, it may be slightly different in a mentoring relationship. It is, of course, clear to the mentor and the mentee which one has and can provide expertise, but the person who initiates that interaction may be either the mentor or the mentee.
The daily online publication, Government Executive, recently ran a story by Ian McAllister called “How to Nurture a Successful Mentor and Protégé Relationship.”
In that article, McAllister claims there are seven attributes in this relationship:
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