Mentoring Empowers All Parties

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By Andrew Woods

The relationship between mentorship and leadership is well established. Traditionally, the relationship has been fairly one-sided, with the more experienced mentor bringing a wealth of personal and professional knowledge to help the ‘mentee’ navigate their own business and life challenges.

However, given the exponential rates of change impacting a four generation workplace, with a fifth already in the stream, those traditions are changing to the betterment of all parties. At a time when innovation and engagement have become inextricably linked to top performance, mentees are not the only benefactors; mentors benefit too—from the ideas and creativity of those unafraid of asking tough questions and evolving both parties as a result.

Mentorship Thrives on Shared Learning
That the HRMA Mentorship Program continues to be a thriving success is based largely on the calibre of the mentors and their commitment to learning, both shared and ongoing.

For Carman J. Overholt, Q.C. of Overholt Law, a Vancouver-based firm specializing in employment and labour relations law, his ongoing involvement with the mentorship program has been rewarding on several levels.

“I have been involved with HRMA since 1987, and in the last 25 years we have witnessed the emergence of human resources management as a vital element of successful organizations,” says Overholt, who takes pride in helping craft ongoing generations of HR professionals through mentoring. That he now has a much firmer grasp of social media as a result, is just a bonus.

“Individuals who have successful careers in human resources management gain experience and knowledge over many years by observing others in dealing with the wide range of challenges that arise in the workplace.  As in the legal profession, various skills are acquired through experience in observing leaders perform their work to the high standards expected in both professions,” says Overholt. “This involves recognition of the legal requirements of the workplace in addition to the ethical boundaries and issues raised in managing the workplace. Understanding the implications of how management responds to a problem in the workplace is only obtained through experience and the kind of mentoring that builds upon theory and the day to day requirements of an organization.”

Amazing People Have Amazing Mentors
As for what it takes to make a mentoring relationship truly successful, digital marketing and business growth specialist Bosco Anthony points to key characteristics of both parties. “A mentee requires drive, discipline and consistency of practice. A mentor has experience, relevance and the motivation to guide. These ingredients make for a great relationship,” says Anthony.

He adds, “Mentors don’t plan to be great. They plan to be awesome and the great thing about going the extra mile is there isn’t usually much traffic there.”

Making Mentoring Work For You
Determining what type of mentor fits your needs is a crucial first step in the mentor hunt. Lois Zachary, president of Leadership Development Services, a Phoenix, Arizona-based business coaching firm, and author of The Mentee’s Guide: Making Mentoring Work for You, recommends starting with a list.

Accordingly, you may want someone who’s a good listener, someone well connected, someone with expertise in a particular area, someone accessible. While the ideal mentor may have all these qualities, reality often requires compromises, so Zachary recommends dividing that list into wants and needs.

The next step, according to Zachary, is to “do informational interviews [with several candidates] and then go back to your criteria, that way you don’t get blown away by chemistry and you stay focused on your business or personal reasons for wanting a mentor.”

By gauging a combination of the qualitative and quantitative attributes of each of your potential mentors, a prime candidate will emerge.

Keep in mind that it may be beneficial to have more than one mentor. If you fear that you may monopolize too much of your mentor’s time then multiple mentors may be the answer.

“The advantages of having multiple mentors is that you can get a lot of different points of view,” notes Zachary, “and when you have a lot of mentors at one time, if they’re sitting around a table, the synergy between the mentors really helps move your thinking along.”

Gen Y and Traditionalists
At no point in history have we had so many differing viewpoints from varied cultures and generations in the workplace. For businesses to be truly successful they need to tap into this diversity. Mentoring from within an organization presents its own challenges, but can similarly be rewarding and re-energizing for those involved, and the  greater organizational culture.

Knowledge sharing across generations and cultures is key to mentorship programs working in both internal and external settings, and while the second is an opportunity available to all members of HRMA, the first is worth exploring further. Inspiring, informing and evolving from within can only serve to drive business results.

Andrew Woods, MBA is a professional speaker, trainer and author of BOOM! Engaging and inspiring employees across cultures. He is a mentor for Simon Fraser University Mentors in Business Program and Futurepreneur.

(PeopleTalk Winter 2014)

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