by Kristin Sauter
When I say “mentorship,” what comes up for you? The traditional approach is a one-on-one relationship where a senior leader takes a junior professional under their wing for a defined period of time. This isn’t foolproof, though; the challenge of traditional mentorship lies in the role-based approach, which might imply that a single mentor has all the answers.
A broader and more expansive approach to mentorship is the group approach, which leverages the strengths of a group of people and holds more opportunity for impact. This, also, is not foolproof (are you seeing a pattern here?); a key challenge associated with this approach can be a lack of focus and/or miscommunications when working with too many people at one time.
The truth is that there is no magic mentorship formula. My favorite approach as a mentee is to work with one mentor on a specific skill while working with another to challenge and improve a negative behavior. On top of getting to learn from different people, this double-whammy also teaches networking and effective relationship-building skills. That said, the dual technique is just one path of many! Here’s what we know concretely: No matter which approach is taken, each mentor provides tools and support based on their personal strengths and key skills, and each mentee should ideally come away from the relationship enriched in some way.
Let’s take a look at key elements that make these relationships successful.
Clear, defined, individualized goals
For mentors, this can look like supporting a mentee through a challenging situation they are facing at the time, helping them improve a behavior that might get in the way of growth, encouraging them to set clear boundaries for themselves and others, etc. For mentees, this can look like remaining open and honest, committing to curiosity over defensiveness, and being extra clear about the outcomes they’re seeking. The point? The more time-bound and specific to the person and the situation, the better.
Ideally, mentors give feedback in real-time and support a mentee by discussing the best way to handle a given situation and why. Besides having regular meetings set up, you might want to agree on in between check-in points to discuss and explore a current situation or challenge. This makes for much greater learning from the existing experience. With that, a mentee should be eager to solicit feedback and be continually striving to explore, experiment, and implement what they’re learning.
Growth, growth, growth
In effective mentorships, both the mentor and mentee proactively identify opportunities for growth as they come. Mentors should be explicit in sharing, helping the mentee understand why and how each particular opportunity is supporting their growth while aligning with the overall goal. For their part, mentees should be specific about the opportunities that interest them and actively seek them out. This could be a particular project, a challenging situation they want to tackle, or a skill they want to add to their toolbox. In other words, a positive mentoring partnership is the opposite of passive. Proactivity is the key.
Mentorship isn’t just something a senior leader can provide to team members or junior peers. Instead, leaders can become role models to the mentors of tomorrow. How? By creating a culture of accountability and support within teams. For example, by regularly checking in with peers to identify where they might need support and offer guidance in areas of their expertise, you can act as a mentor without having any official agreement. At the same time, employees can identify opportunities for growth and find peers or co-workers within their organization to learn through observation. Again . . . growth, growth, growth, and even better when it’s embedded into the culture of your organization.
Besides simply being good for humans (which is the most important part), the business case for having a culture of mentorship is strong: higher retention and employee satisfaction and increased productivity and engagement, to name a few.
What is your favorite approach to mentorship at work? What has worked for you? I’d love to hear your experiences.
Kristin Sauter, a Co-Active Leadership Coach, is a native German who brings an international perspective to her coaching through her past work in the UK, the United States, Germany, and points in between. Kristin’s work with Sarah and many leaders across the U.S. has allowed her to build a deeper understanding and appreciation of people-focused leadership, what Kristin terms “PEOPLESHIP.” Kristin shares her passion and advocacy for mental well-being in her coaching with the belief in unashamedly sharing experiences and exploring healthier paths to emotional fitness using the principle of Positive Intelligence.