Mentors: Powers of Example

What's the first thing that springs to mind when the subject of mentoring is broached? What kinds of images careen through your cranium? An Ancient Greek pontificating in the Parthenon? Perhaps a fortunate adult offering hope and succor to an at-risk young person? A wise elder passing on his learned lessons to a wide-eyed understudy, maybe? Or possibly, a trusted and experienced senior executive in the corporate world sitting down with a young and ambitious cub manager?

These images of mentors and mentees (those who are mentored) are all accurate portrayals and attest to mentoring's vaunted history, as well as potent present. Mentoring is part of the human condition and always will be. In the modern-day corporate realm, the mentoring tradition is not only alive but well and welcomed. Mentoring complements coaching with an informality that works like a charm in the more formal business atmosphere of goals, plans, measures, performance reviews, and the like.

A mentor performs the role of prudent counselor, dispensing advice on career paths, and offers beneficial problem-solving hints on the more immediate matters of the work at hand. Mentors base their instruction on their real-life experiences. Essentially, the mentor points the mentee, a.k.a. protégé, in the right direction regarding opportunities within the company. Ideally, a mentor is one level (or two or three) above the mentee in the organizational hierarchy.

Encourage brainstorming in all your coaching and mentoring efforts. Brainstorming sessions between coach-employee and mentor-mentee are often quite productive. Nothing should be held back when brainstorming, because there are no bad ideas in these informal settings, only great possibilities.

Mentors Can Boost You Up the Corporate Ladder

Foremost, a mentor must be in a solid position to offer direction on the ways and means of getting ahead in the company and in the corporate world in general. “Movin' on up!” in the fine tradition of sitcom character George Jefferson is often what a mentor means to a mentee. Moving on up not only in job title, or pay and perks, but in personal growth and human development as well. Mentors aim to broaden their mentees' job skills, overall worldviews, and understanding of human nature.

Learning how to overcome obstacles is the most important lesson mentors can pass on to their mentees. Mentors withdraw from their own experience banks examples of how they confronted similar obstacles in their career paths. Thus, they show their mentees what worked and what didn't work for them. And these very real situations carry far greater weight than do theoretical textbook accounts of comparable subject matter.

When you succeed in overcoming obstacles in your path, and learn to deal with the predictable bumps in the managerial road, you've learned the most valuable lesson in the workplace — and in life itself for that matter. Successfully attacking the obstacles in your way with ever-increasing self-assurance puts you on the career fast track. For there are few managerial skills more valued than levelheaded problem solving. Getting a handle on tough situations — without flying off the handle — is what separates the men from the boys — and women from the girls — on the managerial scales. By showcasing your ability to beat back obstacles in a professional manner, you reward the faith the company placed in you by giving you a mentor, or making you a mentor, in the first place.

Mentors Have Impeccable Credibility

Needless to say, mentors must be individuals of impeccable credibility and their advice must always ring true. Mentees have to be able to implicitly trust their mentors. Mentors cannot be perceived as hot-air balloons who love the sound of their own voices more than anything else in the world.

When you're mentoring someone, understand that you'll be looked upon as a vast treasury of knowledge with keen insight on the ways of the business world and maybe even the world in general. A veritable Wizard of Oz. Don't let it go to your head. The best mentors in the business world understand their limitations and accept their need to always learn and improve their skills. And if you're always learning, you can't possibly know it all — can you?

Let's return to the Wizard of Oz analogy for a moment. As a mentor, do you want to be perceived as a person with heart, brains, and courage to spare? Of course you do. But just remember who the Wizard of Oz was. He was something of a fraud, cloaking himself behind a curtain and creating a big-screen illusion of power, fear, and all-knowing wisdom. And that's precisely what you don't want to do. Because, as in The Wizard of Oz, your act will eventually be uncovered, just as Dorothy, with the help of tiny Toto, unmasked the ersatz wizard, who, it turned out, was a rather pathetic, mousy old man.

As a mentor, you must always be grounded in reality and carry yourself with some semblance of humility. An overbearing manner in any mentoring relationship is a surefire ticket to failure.

There are many best-selling books (often anthologies of inspirational stories) that are meant to inspire their readership in some way, shape, or form. Likewise, mentors' successes in the business environs can be appreciated if they have inspired others to reach bigger and brighter plateaus. A good mentor is a good teacher.

You have to establish a mutual respect and trust with your mentee. Your tutelage will be welcomed and listened to by your mentee, without any hesitation or dispute whatsoever, if you cultivate an easy rapport, which is essential in any mentor-mentee alliance, just as it is in any other positive human relationship.

Mentors must, of course, back up all their sage counsel with resumes of past achievements. They must showcase rich and diverse work experiences. Also, they must be capable of recounting their stories of, say, having made the move from a claustrophobic mail room to a sprawling office on the forty-first floor with windows overlooking lush Central Park (something a little less dramatic will suffice).

And you never know — you could well find yourself mentoring someone a peg or two below you, while simultaneously receiving guidance from a higher-up (that senior executive in that dreamy office). After all, many mentors are also mentees.

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