Do you have a mentor? Have you ever been mentored? Mentoring isn´t what it used to be. For many, it´s still a rather informal notion that just sort of happens naturally. For others, mentoring is part of a corporate employee development program with scheduled meetings, published goals, and deep analyses. Regardless of where you fall in the mentoring category it´s still one of those areas in business that has some flexibility. Indeed, I believe that instead of focusing on having one mentor we should create mentoring squads.
Instead of limiting ourselves-and our employees-to one person who can guide and advise why not open up our options and create mentoring opportunities that include many different people? Old-style mentoring used to happen in this way: a long-standing employee would be hooked up with a new and enthusiastic (let´s hope) worker. These days, though, mentors and mentees (yes, it´s a word) can be roughly the same age and it´s not necessary (nor is it advisable) to be limited to one person. The new school for mentoring is to assemble a cadre of people who are willing to share their varied experiences so that others can avoid some of the same mistakes or at the very least have someone to guide them through those mistakes. After all, we sure can learn from our own blunders. Yet having someone who´s made similar mistakes by our sides can ease the pain.
Some companies incorporate mentoring programs for the upper echelons only. Others assign a mentor on a newcomer´s first day. But you don´t have to have a formal program of any sort to assign or become a mentor. Still, it can help, because it gives people the message that it´s an important component in their development.
My local police department has a mentoring program in place. Believe it or not, I recently enrolled in the "Citizens Police Academy" as part of my research for a book I´m working on. At last night´s first class I learned that each new recruit is assigned a mentor, which is reflective of the police force´s philosophy that states, "Training is every day." As the instructor noted, the training a recruit receives at the police academy doesn’t stop upon graduation. One office who accompanied us on a tour remarked that he learns something new every day. We can borrow this philosophy for our own lives, because truly aren´t we all always learning?
A successful mentoring relationship is first and foremost one based on trust. If you can´t trust someone, then the chemistry and comfort that come later are difficult to achieve. Having trust allows us to ask questions without worrying whether they sound stupid or sophomoric. Having trust ensures that when we confide in our mentor (or when we confide in those whom we´re mentoring) the information we provide will remain private. Having trust means that our mentor really does want us to succeed.
Sometimes a mentoring relationship can sour and you shouldn´t be afraid to walk away from something that isn´t working. Some connections are not meant to last, and hanging on for too long can permanently damage some relationships. On the other hand, a mentoring relationship doesn´t have to turn into friendship either and if it´s just about work, it can succeed. The goal should be helping someone develop a career strategy that may include getting more visibility in the workplace, creating various opportunities, negotiating salary, successfully juggling work and family, and on and on.
Next time I´ll say more about mentoring, but in the meantime I´d like you to think of someone who´s mentored you. Maybe it was your eleventh grade chemistry teacher or it was your first boss. Think, too, about whom you might be mentoring right now. Sometimes we´re mentors and we don´t even know it.