One of the most common claims in a resume for a person in a management position is "mentoring others". It's often considered to be a given - an obvious resume add-on for someone in that supervisory position - but mentorship is a specific relationship with others that extends the management role and is worthy of a conscious definition.
So, what is mentorship?
A workplace mentor is someone able to provide guidance, feedback, and shared experience to the less-experienced employee (the mentee). The mentor often becomes like a role model, a font of wisdom and expertise the mentee can lean upon to help guide their own work decisions, progress and growth.
However, this is only half the story. The mentee has a proactive role to play here too - they aren't just a sponge to soak up the advice of their mentor (although, that's a part of it). A strong mentor relationship is a two-way street.
An engaged mentor is looking to learn from their mentee as well, because what the mentee lacks in experience, they often offer in a fresh perspective, grassroots connections to operational issues and an insight into how management is perceived and could be improved.
Each generation brings with it a need to adapt leadership styles to engage effectively with the next cohort moving through the labour market. Mentor relationships provide excellent opportunities for the management group to retain personalised connections with the grassroots of the business, allowing them to more easily recognise the nuances of communication and leadership needs.
Sometimes, the mentee can fill the role of the mentor in the relationship.
Truly engaged mentors seek out these mentorship opportunities where they can seek advice, input, and feedback from their mentees. These mentors give their mentees the opportunity voice their ideas, perspectives, opinions and questions, so they can learn from them as much as their mentees learn from the mentors.
Increasingly, workplaces that employ a top-down management structure are becoming seen as stagnant in a marketplace that is increasingly dynamic, characterised by adaption, innovation and creative strategic pursuit of goals. It just doesn't make sense that a formal mentorship program or an informal mentorship relationships would be modelled on this rather old-fashioned view of business management.
As years of operation go by, a company will usually become more "mechanistic" - that is, governed by increasing rules and procedures, even as we generally move away from an autocratic style and towards a more collaborative approach. Mentorship programs are a great way of trying to avoid this tendency for businesses to move towards multi-layered management structures wrapped up in red tape, toppled by top-heavy control that hampers grassroots innovation. Championing informal mentorship relationships that connect staff together across the management divide can also positively influence business strategic direction.
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So, who can be a mentor?
Well, let's shoot down the myth a mentor has to be an executive manager, right from the get-go, shall we? A mentor can be anyone whose approach to work, technical or professional skills, and/or work values reflect how we would like to see ourselves grow to emulate (albeit with inevitable adaptions along the way).
You don't have to seek out the person who is in the job that you one day want to have. It's really not about job titles. The most important thing to look for in a mentor is a genuine commitment to investing in you, who will welcome your input into discussions and problem-solving, and perhaps even help you create opportunities for you that will allow you to further develop your expertise.
As a mentor, when deciding whether to accept a mentorship connection with someone, you will need to think about what you have to offer - not just in terms of skills and experience, but time, interest and genuine commitment to working with that person to help them grow. The mentee may also be someone whom you see potential in, you would like to contribute to shaping their professional development, and you would like to see succeed.
However, the basis of every great mentor relationship is an understanding of shared goals. If you can establish what you want to achieve together, how each of you will contribute to the achievement of these outcomes, and the time investment you both agree to commit, you have a strong foundation for mentorship success.
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