Rodger Harding's Business Mentorship Guidelines

by Administrator 09.Jul.2009 10:18:00

“... I can see them no more as they are, but as they were meant to be, as they would have liked to be if they had a chance…”- Axel Munthe 

 It seems as if mentorship is the business buzzword of the moment. Against the backdrop of a decade long commitment to the York University Learning Disability Mentorship Program (LDP) and a six year involvement with the Canadian Women in Communications (CWC-AFC) Mentorship Program, I am alarmed at the increasingly transactional slant that appears to regard mentorship as a fast-track networking vehicle or an opportunity to rapidly download the hard-earned knowledge of others.  My own interaction with a succession of people with vastly differing professional and personal mentorship requirements has been intensely rewarding and has resulted in strong opinions on the subject:   

What is Mentorship?    

A Mentor will essentially identifiy, understand, validate and enable full Mentee potential. Perhaps the essence of an evolving mentor/mentee relationship it is to provide a stepping stone or sounding-board that will assist mentees realize the importance of becoming who they are and what they want to be, rather than who they are supposed to be. To this end, establishing a good fit and mutual availability is critical if the relationship is going to work. Consider the following criteria as a potential check list:    

An Effective Mentor will display: 
  • Recognition, understanding and preservation of unique mentee thinking, competencies and impact  
  • Preparedness to accept value and priority differences (the ability to transcend personal approach
  • Acceptance of changing realities as the relationship progresses
  • Ability to work with uncertainty and intangible results - Stand free of, and not care more about, outcomes than the mentee!
  • Ongoing commitment as a resource/sounding board
  • Belief that the process is a two-way street – A relationship of equals builds trust and opens the door to mutual learning (An unusual example of this approach would be the CWC-AFC Mentoring Circle set up by their Calgary Chapter. A group of like-minded, high calibre broadcast professionals mentor each other with great success)  

 An Engaged Mentee will display:

  • Open communication of expectations, ambition, priorities and, importantly, fears and perceived weakness – This will focus the mentor on meeting requirements in a timely fashion
  • Ability to embrace changing circumstance/priorities
  • Acceptance of an evolution rather than a quick-fix solution/download
  • Consideration of the process as a privilege, not a right…! The greatest acknowledgement of mentor input is to show appreciation for time and knowledge shared with an equal degree of enthusiasm and engagement    

 Mentorship Pitfalls 

Setting a firm set of mutual expectations with the understanding that these might change is the best starting point. My most significant mentor relationships have been with mentees who have been unsure of specific goals, but need someone with whom they can bounce ideas around. As with any relationship things can go awry, but starting off on the wrong foot will ensure failure. Major pitfalls are: 

  • Inappropriate mentee motivation/agendas; Example: Using the mentorship relationship as a vehicle to leverage future job opportunities, high level networking etc.
  • Mentor motivation that sees the relationship as an opportunity to illustrate leadership, teamwork etc. for career/resume purposes
  • Entitlement, lacklustre engagement and lack of common courtesy; Ignoring basic rules of punctuality, respect etc. rapidly erode whatever positive attitude may initially exist
  • Consideration of process above content. Example: Four obligatory meetings of one hour duration and a short formulaic report does not constitute mentorship. (A leading Toronto business school provides mentors to participants in $20k courses that are nothing more than template enforcers)  
 Ongoing Mentorship Relationships While it is not mandatory to saddle oneself with a mentor or mentee indefinitely, it is interesting to see how long the relationships survive, and indeed bear the very fruits that are considered calculating or manipulative at the outset of mentorship interaction.  Speaking from my own experience, some of my closest friends as well as information, service and referral resources were mentees in earlier years.  

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