Dec. 10, 2004 - #1477

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CompTEL/ASCENT, ALTS looking to merge
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How the Grinch Saved the USPS!
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Foregoing the formalities of mentoring
By Joanne Lozar Glenn, writer/educator, Alexandria VA

The demand for mentoring is growing, and assns are finding that having a mentoring program is an important factor in staffer retention (Christian Science Monitor, 9/24/04).

Yet many organizations find it difficult to put a mentoring program in place. Often this is because organizations have "flattened" and the middle managers who formerly took new professionals under their wings are no longer available, or because financial and human resources are already are allocated to other programs.

Thankfully, there is an alternative. Help staffers learn to mentor themselves (this is not as facetious as it sounds), and then guide them to find a mentor on the "outside."

Learning to mentor oneself

Helping employees mentor themselves means encouraging them to consciously become their own best advocate in the workplace. Have staffers identify the skills mentors exhibit and apply them inward: reinforcing strengths, addressing mistakes with a sense of humor and training to remedy skills gaps. Help them identify other action steps they can take to, as Nelson Mandela said in his 1994 inaugural address, embrace their own greatness.

The payoff is staffers who are more passionate about their jobs - and whose enthusiasm rubs off on coworkers.

Finding a “professional” mentor Even employees who have successfully acted as their own mentors might at one time or another feel the need to create a formal relationship with an external “professional” mentor. These relationships can be created to address a career transition or to address specific learning needs.

The following guidelines can help your employees find “win–win” mentoring relationships:

  • Determine the traits of your “ideal” mentor. Decide which qualities are essential and which ones you can live without. But remember, the “ideal” mentor must be the ideal mentor for you.

  • Identify the specific issue(s) you’d like to address. Asking for a specific kind of help makes it easier for a potential mentor to respond or, if unable to help with that specific issue, to refer you to someone who can help.

  • Consider a mentoring alternative. Hire a business or life coach. Coaches are typically outside rather than inside the workplace, yet are similar to mentors in that they provide encouragement, support, and the reality check that friends and family may not be able to offer.

  • Agree on how the relationship will work and what obligations and/or contributions will exist on each side. You may want to put this in writing.

  • Decide the duration of the relationship, and whether or not it is “renewable.” For example, a trainer who had just earned her certification was asked to mentor a training candidate for one year of study. It was then up to her and her mentee to decide if they wanted to continue the relationship, and on what terms.

  • Realize that you can tap into formal mentoring programs outside your assn, or bring outside organizations that specialize in mentoring into your own organization.

  • Understand that a mentoring relationship takes time to gel. The most important ingredient is trust, and this might take a while to build. Touch base regularly, do what you promise, and build in some “bonding” time.

  • Listen hard, but don’t neglect listening to yourself as well. Gather information, make informed decisions, but also trust your gut.

  • Be a stealth learner. Use everything life throws at you -- successes, failures, new assignments -- to enhance your capabilities and expand your vision of what is possible.

  • Run the other way from spoon feeding. Find a mentor who makes you work rather than does the work for you. As E.M. Forster wrote, “Spoon feeding teaches us nothing but the shape of the spoon.”

This article is adapted from the book Mentor Me: A Guide to Being Your Own Best Advocate in the Workplace (Reston, VA: National Business Education Assn, October 2003).

Details: http://www.mentorme.info/.

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