Foregoing the formalities of
By Joanne Lozar Glenn, writer/educator,
The demand for mentoring is growing,
and assns are finding that having a mentoring program is an
important factor in staffer retention (Christian Science
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
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
- 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
- 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
- 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