The Uber Coach: The Mentor

Before concluding our discussion of coaching, I want to turn to the super coach or mentor.  So many successful people point to an older peer who took the time to mentor them during their career.  For many of us, there is someone in our personal or professional life that helped us develop into who we are today.   Like many of you, I can identify a few people that really made a difference in my professional developmental.  Each provided that perfect mix of teacher, resource, guide, and friend.

A mentor is normally someone in the same or similar field or background with experience and wisdom that assists a younger person with the challenges of developing and being successful.  Unlike a coach, a mentor will typically work with an employee over a lengthy period of time developing abilities and relationships in different phases of the mentee’s career.   A strong mentor shares experiences, counsels, creates opportunities, and coaches a mentee or protégé.    Considerable evidence reveals that mentoring relationships are successfully utilized in a variety of professional and personal settings to help children, students, employees, and leaders.  In business, mentors have been used to assist with the development of high performing employees, newly hired graduates, and future leaders.

So, how much do you know about successful mentors? Here are a few statements to test your knowledge. Are the statements generally correct or incorrect?

1.       A mentee should pick his or her own mentor.

2.       An employee’s boss makes the best mentor.

3.       The less organized and structured the mentor-mentee relationship the better.

4.       A mentee should limit his or her conversation with a mentor to career issues only.

5.       A mentor and mentee must have the same interests to be successful.

Each of these statements is incorrect based on current research.

What are the most important areas for the mentor and mentee to focus on?

  • Formation of Values
  • Vision to Reality
  • Attitude

Formation of Values

Since ancient times, it has been common for the young to work with the older and more experienced o gain knowledge and to develop values.  The pre-industrial apprentice system perpetuated this model and matched young workers with senior craftsman that taught not only how to perform highly skilled work but the values necessary to be successful in the profession.  Industrialization changed this pattern of knowledge transfer, but even more importantly, it altered the way values are transmitted between generations and within organizations.

In the simplest sense, values are broad preferences regarding appropriate behaviors and actions.   Values provide the basis for what is right and what is wrong as well as defines the ideal state or outcome.  We acquire our values throughout life from our family and peers as well as formal social, religious, and professional organizations.  We live in an era where some organizations have tipped the scale to the degree to which values are minimized compared to outcomes.

A mentor can illustrate the benefit of values in his or her own life and assist a mentee in determining what is important.  In addition, a mentor can help resolve those issues where values might be compromised to accomplish a desirable outcome.

Vision to Reality

Most ambitious mentees have professional dreams they wish to realize.  Success requires designing a vision as well as determining the steps to get there.  When someone is young many times nothing seems impossible.  However, with age a person starts to recognize limitations more and become less optimistic.  A strong mentor can assist with refining a vision over time and determining the best path for making the journey based on current circumstances.  Most mentors have dealt with the many barriers and challenges that occur through a career and can provide critical feedback on plans and assists with developing strategy.

Attitude

How we deal with success and failure plays a major role in telling who we are and will become.  A mentor pushes us, ensures that we hold our chin up, and helps us go on when we feel we cannot do it anymore. Attitude is something that we notice quickly about people it is variable and influences almost everything else about us.  Thomas Jefferson summed it up well:

“Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude.

If you are looking for an example mentor program guide, a good place to start is the US Department of Energy.  The handbook can be found at:

http://humancapital.doe.gov/resources/2009-MentorProgGuide-ECollins1-9-09.pdf

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