To what do you attribute your professional success? (check all that apply)
As a hiring manager, I’ve begun asking this question of job candidates. Of course there isn’t a right or wrong answer. I find that responses and corresponding explanations offer insight into the individual’s self-awareness, adaptability and growth. In almost every case the person being interviewed identifies “mentor” as highly relevant. Usually the respondent is eager to share examples of the qualities that specific mentor possessed and the wisdom they imparted. The accolades are so powerful. I often wonder if they’ve ever told their mentor how they influenced them. (I hope so!)
When I reflect on my own experiences, there most certainly have been mentors who had a profound and lasting impact on my growth. There’s the female leader of a non-profit who conveyed such optimism and persistence, which taught me the importance of vision. There’s the director of organizational development who demonstrated the power of asking provocative questions, which taught me how to encourage thinking and reflection. There’s the seasoned industry executive who surrounded himself with a management team that complemented his strengths and weaknesses, which taught me you don’t always have to be the smartest person in the room.
Over several decades as both an employee and a manager, I have discovered how much I value personal integrity, open communication, and decisiveness. Today, I have a great boss. I haven’t always had great bosses. Sometimes I learned from them what not to do. Nevertheless, I’ve learned from all my bosses. That said, not every boss is a mentor (or a role model).
The act of mentoring is a conscious, bi-directional effort. There are many definitions and the one that I subscribe to for the workplace comes from a long Wikipedia entry on mentoring:
Mentoring is a process for the informal transmission of knowledge, social capital, and the psychosocial support perceived by the recipient as relevant to work, career, or professional development; mentoring entails informal communication, usually face-to-face and during a sustained period of time, between a person who is perceived to have greater relevant knowledge, wisdom, or experience (the mentor) and a person who is perceived to have less (the protégé)" (Bozeman, B.; Feeney, M. K. (October 2007). "Toward a useful theory of mentoring: A conceptual analysis and critique". Administration & Society. 39 (6): 719–739. doi:10.1177/0095399707304119).
I find that most engaged professionals, no matter where they are at (myself included) in the spectrum from early career to late stage, look for ways to improve themselves, broaden their perspective, and/or hone a skill. That said, the higher up your position is in an organization, it’s possible the less likely you are to be mentored (unless you are being groomed for succession or you have a very mature organization with a formal mentoring program). In fact, the higher up you are, the more likely you are to be asked to be the mentor to someone else (also a good thing). In the absence of having a mentor within your organization, an alternative is to identify an industry mentor, which has additional potential (think future networking opportunities).
Knowing your motivation for mentoring is important. What do you hope to get out of it? What are you willing to put into it? Ultimately, whether you are the mentor or the protégée, being receptive to, as well as intentional and transparent about, the mentoring process and the feedback is essential. While the mentoring relationship may be temporary (i.e., at a fixed time in your professional career) and people are apt to move on to new jobs, new companies, new industries, and new cities, the benefits can be long lasting.
Have you acknowledged your mentor today?