AHRI’s mentoring program has grown from about 50 mentoring participants in our first intake five years ago, to around 1100 members signing up in 2016. How did all this come about?
To encourage better leadership during the Greek empire, mentoring was invented to expose young proteges to learning from wise elders ‘who had been there and done that’. Today we are seeing a major renaissance in the practice and art of mentoring, including at AHRI!
We all live in a global, digitally-connected business empire, where we have to fight off other tribal warriors seeking to enter our business patch, and take away our competitive advantages.
Life at work is full of ambiguity and uncertainty, and sometimes critical moral and ethical challenges. Mentoring has entered the workplace fray of business growth and survival with many mentees identifying that they aren’t coping, and in need of good counsel.
As the author and principal character of international bestseller and major Hollywood film Mao’s Last Dancer, Li CunXin, told me during interview for my own book entitled Make Mentoring Work: “A good mentor helps you walk in your own shoes, even if you start out just wanting to walk in theirs.”
So what makes for a good mentoring relationship? Evidence from my research, gives the following answers:
A harmonious set of values between mentor and mentee. One in six mentoring pairs end prematurely because that alignment of values and trust fails to exist – for whatever reason.
The mentoring relationship needs to be a safe haven of trust – especially for the mentee, who needs to expose their innermost fears and concerns to their mentor, in order to make material progress in overcoming them. You need to know whether you are getting into the water with a dolphin, or a white pointer.
So what are the key requirements?
Firstly, a level of discipline in setting objectives, regular meetings and the mentee doing homework in between times – such as reading a relevant publication the mentor has given them.
The strength of a mentoring relationship thereafter depends on the understanding and practice of the roles for each party. A good mentee:
- Patiently establishes trust with their mentor;
- Persistently probes the mentor for their real life experiences which can throw light and insights on the mentee’s own challenges;
- Respects the mentor’s time and commitment pressures and is flexible around meeting times; and is prepared to be open and honest on who they are and what they are trying to achieve.
A great mentor will usually:
- Work hard to present themselves as an equal to the mentee – ie stripping themselves of power body language, dress and behaviour;
- Demonstrates a genuine concern and interest in the mentee;
- Be an 80/20 listener /talker – and not the reverse;
- Ask probing and insightful questions;
- Pose critical learnings to the mentees primarily through powerful stories that parallel the mentee’s challenges; and
- Know when to let go, and when the mentee has reached their own moments of truth.
Mentoring discussions are mostly about complex interpersonal relationships, or ‘difficult people’ we meet in work and life. Other common topics relate to strategic challenges, moral and ethical dilemmas, or understanding and using power structures. No rocket science here – these are issues we all face each day on the job.
In writing Make Mentoring Work, I interviewed nearly 100 of Australia’s top leaders, all of whom had mentors, and they all willingly shared their mentoring stories. Further, I met with sponsors and managers of Australia’s 20 leading mentoring programs. The result was a book for the self-starter looking for a mentor, and those organisations that want to set up a mentoring program.
The mentoring motor is now active everywhere and shows no signs of abating. It’s a key to both success and survival in the global digital business world in which we now find ourselves.
This article was originally published in the January 2017 edition of HRM Magazine.