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Center for Mentoring Excellence Leadership Team shares stories of the past and recommendations for the future
Lois, Lory and Lisa share many things in common when it comes to mentoring, but it’s their individual approach and unique outlook that make them such a successful team. This spirit of individuality and their complementary skills were highlighted in a recent interview, where they were asked about their passion for mentoring, what they’ve learned from mentors, and their advice to new mentors.
Here’s what they had to say:
Why are you passionate about mentoring?
LOIS: My personal mentoring stories are many. I marvel at how my mentors raised the bar for me, led by example, pushed me beyond my personally defined limits, encouraged me to enlarge my thinking, and believed in me even when I was not sure of myself. I am grateful for their time, their stories and their commitment to my growth. And, while most of my experiences were positive, there were a few that could have gone better. I had no clue then that there were things I could have done, could have said, could have asked, and could have tried that would have allowed me to make the most of my mentoring relationships. I didn’t realize that as a mentee I had an instrumental role to play in shaping the relationship and defining the outcomes of the relationship. So for me, mentoring is both personal and professional. I pay it back, every day and in every way that I can. My passion is reignited every time I work with my many diverse clients and I see how mentoring has helped them change, both themselves and the world around them.
LORY: I’ve interviewed hundreds of mentors and mentees over the past 18 years and heard their stories about breakthroughs, renewed confidence, and shifts in thinking. Their stories have inspired me. I get energized listening to people talk about their renewed sense of energy and commitment to their work because of the support and positive feedback they’ve received from mentors. I recently spoke to a mentee who told me how his mentor helped him see why certain stereotypical beliefs were holding him back and undermining his success at work. When he was finally able to turn his behaviors around, the stress and tension disappeared and new opportunities opened up. It’s exciting to see the transformative power of mentoring play itself out, time and time again.
LISA: I believe the best way to make a difference in the workplace is to help employees feel connected, valued and heard. I think that mentoring is the ideal way to accomplish this, because it creates a safe and powerful space for a mentee to gain perspective, focus on his/her own needs and ask questions that broaden their perspectives of themselves, their teams, and their organization.
What have you learned from your mentors?
LOIS: I’ve learned to listen to my own voice, to think outside the box, to let my creativity shine through, and to never give up. And that’s only the start of it. I’ve learned from observing my mentors in action, how they model the art and practice of being a reflective practitioner and asking deep, penetrating questions.
LORY: My first mentor believed that I had the skills and talent to be successful. He believed in my abilities more than I did. He inspired me to take risks and take on assignments that I would never have done without his support. I learned to believe in myself and see myself as a capable leader. My mentor also helped me understand how to think strategically and understand the politics of the institution. In a sense, he helped me see how the chess pieces moved. I learned to think several steps ahead, rather than jump in and make decisions on the fly.
LISA: I’ve learned to slow down, and to step back and think about the impact my role can have on the organization as a whole. This has helped me be more strategic and focus my own development so that I can have the greatest impact. I’ve learned to pay attention to what lights me up. I’ve learned to appreciate the positive feedback I get and to process difficult feedback constructively and in the proper context.I’ve learned a ton about the importance of developing relationships with people who believe in me and to nurture those relationships.
What are the top 3 things you’d like a new mentor to know?
- Pay attention to your intuition. Your gut feeling is more often right than wrong.
- Don’t be afraid of the silence. Silence allows a mentee to catch up, to process, and come up with new insights.
- You don’t need to know everything. A good question is the most powerful tool in your mentor’s toolkit.
- Talk about your challenges and struggles with your mentee as well as your successes. It will make you more approachable and human.
- Believe in your mentees and let them know that you see their potential. They are doing the heavy lifting and your positivity helps them continue the effort.
- Push your mentee out of their comfort zone. It’s the only way they will reap real rewards.
- Share your own experiences — the good stuff and the stuff that might not be so good. It makes a world of difference for mentees to know you are human and that you can bounce back from difficult experiences.
- Give honest but constructive feedback — and help the mentee turn it into something actionable. Mentees can make great gains if they get honest feedback from their mentors. It helps many mentees to have a space to talk about the best ways to improve.
- Check in on the relationship. If something the mentee is doing isn’t working for you, or is sabotaging their own progress, share it with them as soon as possible. Some of the greatest progress has come from mentoring relationships that started out rocky, but where the participants addresses issues openly, swiftly, and willingly.
Time to Talk Turkey!
Thanksgiving brings to mind images of family and friends gathered together around a festive table.
Most likely, the people sitting around your table, like those around ours, are catching up on what happened since they were together last Thanksgiving. They will be telling stories about what is happening right now, and perhaps reflecting on some special event or person or something they’ve been struggling with over the past year.
A mentoring roundtable is similar to traditional Thanksgiving gatherings in some ways and different in others. It is similar in that it creates an opportunity to share experiences and tell stories. Mentoring program participants sit around a table sharing stories about how their mentoring relationships are going, talking about what they’ve accomplished since they’ve last met, and exchanging best mentoring practices. It differs from traditional Thanksgiving gatherings in that mentors and mentees create their own community where they meet separately without mentoring partners present to openly share and confidentially discuss their mentoring experiences. It also differs in that conversation is led by a facilitator to encourage full and free flowing participation and to ensure that that no one dominates the conversation.
What can you learn from attending a Mentoring Roundtable?
Mentors and mentees always walk away from roundtables with “aha” moments, new insights, learning, and answers to mentoring questions. Here are three learning takeaways we hear from mentors and mentees.
“We are not as far behind as I thought.” In a formal mentoring program, it is common for mentors and mentees to wonder if and how they measuring up against other mentoring pairs. Many fear their progress is lagging behind other mentoring pairs or they assume others sail smoothly while they struggle. When they discover others are facing similar problems and have similar concerns, it is a relief and an impetus to keep moving forward.
“Oh, so that’s what a good goal looks like.” Identifying SMART goals that make a difference in a mentee’s growth and development is one of the most challenging tasks for mentors and mentees face. Creating SMART goals takes time and effort. The mentoring roundtable provides an opportunity for mentors to determine if mentee goals are on track and sufficiently challenging. In the process, they learn about t multiple success strategies they can adapt to support and bolster their mentee’s growth and development. The mentoring roundtable also provides an opportunity for mentees to learn about goals that their peers are working on and to find out how they are handling the challenge of balancing day to day work while pursuing their developmental goals. Listening to others pushes mentees to clarify or expand their own goals.
“Wow, that’s something I never thought of doing.” Participation in a roundtable stretches everyone. Hearing about a successful approach one mentor is successfully using encourages others to adopt new or similar approaches. Mentors who struggle with a specific problem find solutions from coworkers who have already faced the problem and overcome it. Mentees benefit from hearing other mentees talk about strategies they are using to deepen the level of conversation with their mentor or to drive the relationship forward. One mentee’s story about stepping out of their comfort zone can inspire others to do likewise, thus giving them confidence to try something new or to expand mentoring skills.
A mentoring roundtable creates a learning community that enables everyone who participates to learn successful strategies and stay on track throughout the lifecycle of a formal mentoring relationship. They provide a comfortable space and place to talk turkey, to speak openly and to enhance everyone’s learning.