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Mentoring Blog


  • 0 FINDING MENTORS EVERYWHERE

    In a formal mentoring program, facilitators invest heavily in pairing mentors and mentees. They sort through demographics such as communication style, career trajectory, and experience. They analyze requests and preferences, aiming to create a mutually beneficial experience for both participants. This involved process is critical when planning successful partnerships that will meet the goals outlined in a prescribed program. There is another type of mentoring, however, that is less reliant on a well-engineered matching system. In this month’s newsletter, we will talk about soaking up mentors using daily interactions with colleagues, organizational leaders, or anyone that you find inspiring. In other words, we want to encourage taking on mentors who don’t exactly know that they’re mentoring you. Soaking up a mentor might mean, actively noting the way a well-respected colleague handles an ongoing prickly relationship or observing how a productive supervisor manages their calendar. Every day we are connecting with people on conference calls and email chains who are setting an example of what to do or what not to do in any given situation. Mentors are all around- it’s up to you to take the opportunity to learn from them. Know what you are searching Make a list of immediate needs and long-term goals. Where are your trouble spots? Perhaps your two-year plan is to reach a specific grade-level but you need to get your name out there to even be in consideration for promotion. Maybe you’re struggling to carve a line between professional expectations and personal obligations and looking for clarity on fitting in everything. It could be that the emails you thoughtfully compose are not getting quick responses, leaving you with the sense that the way you make requests isn’t effective. Zeroing in on what you need to do better will ensure that you pick up on the right things when observing others. Take notes and flag examples so that you can refer back to them. Create opportunities to learn Look for relatable learning opportunities. As leadership author Dan Black explains, “It’s all about being observant, which requires having attentive eyes and ears.” Wherever you are, take the time to actively engage, especially if there is someone in the room who you’ve identified as an informal mentor. Raise your hand and get involved in the conversation. Asking questions demonstrates focus and attention, a desire to dig beneath the surface, solve the problem, learn the skill. Asking questions ensures understanding and demonstrates a hunger for learning. Some tips for asking good questions include: Have a general idea ahead of time about the kind of information you seek. If joining a meeting, read ahead to know what is going to be discussed and what areas might need more explaining. Questions should be targeted and meaningful. Show openness when looking for details and try to keep preconceived opinions to yourself. Instead of “I really can’t figure out this weird system and wanted to ask….”, you might say, “What have you heard people love best about this system?” Only ask one-part questions. Overpacking will make it hard for the respondent to offer a clear answer. Leave your comfort zone Don’t be afraid to share your ideas when collaborating with someone you admire, especially colleagues with more seniority. Seek opportunities to talk about the way you have approached a problem and muse about potential strategies. It’s okay to make mistakes when trying to explain. People who know the issue better will jump in with workarounds or additional problem-solving. Consider it free feedback. Be curious Psychology Today explains curiosity as “a combination of intelligence, persistence, and hunger for novelty.” Curiosity adds zest. Cultivate your curiosity about things like leadership and industry knowledge by looking to mentors outside of the office. You might follow a writer on LinkedIn, subscribe to a notable speaker’s weekly podcast, or peruse an industry leader’s Instagram account. Read their biographies and research how they came to acquire their expertise. When they share articles on the topics that interest you, drill deeper to see what sources they have linked or referenced and read those sources for more information and context. Even look to motivational speakers or bestselling authors who demonstrate strong character and an energy that speaks to you. Curate a file of links and snapshots of posts by these lofty mentors so that you can look to them for broad inspiration. Stay curious and keep seeking knowledge. Mentoring is an important contributor to a successful and satisfying career. Joining a formal mentoring program shows your ambition and drive but don’t forget to soak up the mentors who are in your life each and every day. Make an effort to learn from them and follow their wisdom.

  • 0 Situational Mentors: Creating a network of learning

    When our son decided he wanted to become the goalie for his lacrosse team, my husband and I were thrilled that he’d set such a challenging goal for himself. We supported him, encouraged him, and believed he could do it . . . but we also knew he would need more than our cheerleading to achieve his goal. He needed someone with knowledge and experience to help him develop the skills and technique that we couldn’t teach. He needed a coach—a situational mentor.   This scenario is every bit as common in professional mentoring relationships as it is in parenting. Mentors often encounter opportunities to help their mentees grow and develop by enlisting the help of other colleagues or leaders in the organization. In fact, in many formal mentoring programs, identifying and recommending situational mentors is an encouraged or required part of the program.   A situational mentor is a subject matter expert who can offer knowledge related to a specific task, skill, or topic. This type of mentoring relationship is generally a short-term partnership that focuses on achieving a particular purpose or goal. Partnering with a situational mentor supplements an established mentoring program or relationship, and allows the mentee to gain a new skill, perspective, or relationship.  There are different types of situational mentoring that mentors can recommend. Here are a few examples.  Job shadowing. Shadowing involves observing another employee at work for a set period (from a few hours to a few days) to gain a better understanding of how that employee performs a specific task or process. People often think of shadowing as an opportunity to spend the day with a senior leader or attend a high-level meeting with a manager, but shadowing can be done with any employee at any level for any task.  For example, in one agency where report writing is a critical focus area, employees can sign up to shadow editors or statisticians while they review reports, or to attend another team’s in-process review to take notes on the types of questions and feedback the team receives. Observing these activities without being directly involved in them allows employees to filter the experience through a different lens and gain valuable insight that they can apply to their own reports. Setting up a similar experience for a mentee is as simple as identifying the activity the mentee would like to shadow, what they hope to learn from the experience, and the right person to ask.   Informational Interviews. Interviews are great for mentees who have questions about a concept or program, or who are seeking career advice from people who have already accomplished objectives they hope to achieve. When I was a mentee in a formal program, a few of my mentoring colleagues met with a successful female executive from another agency. The executive shared her professional story, detailing how she rose through the ranks and learned along the way. Meanwhile, my colleagues and I were able to ask questions and solicit her advice. This type of situational mentorship can also be helpful for a mentee considering a significant job change. Connecting with a professional in the field or position they are considering could help answer their questions and identify issues or considerations they weren’t aware of.   Project-based. Project-based mentoring involves soliciting technical expertise from a subject matter expert to help a mentee complete a project, or to provide feedback on a project the mentee has completed independently. This type of situational mentoring can be longer lasting and more in-depth depending on the breadth and scope of the project. For example, when one mentee was tasked to help present a briefing to the head of the agency, her mentor recommended that she meet with a situational mentor to help her prepare. The mentee met with her situational mentor several times in the weeks leading up to the briefing. The situational mentor listened to the information she needed to present, helped her organize an effective slide presentation, hosted “dry runs” to let her rehearse her section of the presentation, and provided her valuable feedback and advice based on his experience regularly briefing the agency head.   With so many of us working remotely and socially isolating, you may be tempted to postpone recommending or facilitating a situational mentor until things are “back to normal.” But now could actually be a great time to consider your mentee’s goals and objectives and evaluate where in their mentoring plan a situational mentor could add value. The same applications that allow us to attend meetings online can enable mentees to meet situational mentors virtually—mentees may even be able to shadow through screen sharing! And with the delay or cancellation of so many meetings, conferences, trainings, and extracurricular activities, mentees and potential situational mentors might find it easier to schedule a time to meet. These examples highlight how situational mentors can enhance a mentee’s growth and development. Situational mentors don’t replace a formal mentor, but they can add an element of diversity, dimension, and a different perspective—hallmarks of an effective mentoring experience.   In any event, to stay engaged and maximize the benefits of a situational mentoring experience, be sure to follow up with the mentee to discuss what they learned from the experience and how they can apply—and share—the new knowledge or skills that they gained. 

  • 0 MENTORING THROUGH THESE UNCERTAIN TIMES

    For many of us, working from home presents a myriad of new challenges including staying productive and collaborating from afar, all while sharing spaces with our loved ones, fighting temptation to check the news, and possibly even taking on a new role as a homeschooling parent. With so many competing priorities, our mentoring partnerships might seem like the easiest thing to push off until later. Truthfully, however, some of us need mentoring right now more than ever. Mentors can offer advice on staying focused, stepping up with division work, and making sure extra effort is visible to our organizational leaders. It isn’t just about giving us strategies for staying productive; our mentoring partners can offer companionship during a period in which working from a home office may seem disorienting and isolating. At The Training Connection (TTC), we are always advising geographically distanced partners on keeping momentum and making progress against their mentoring goals even when they aren’t able to meet face-to-face. In truth, we sometimes find that meeting virtually can be more efficient than drifting into your partner’s office for a chat. Partners tend to be less likely to cancel a phone call and, in turn, more likely to prepare for it. Mentees usually only dial the phone when they are ready with a list of questions, mentors might come with an article they earmarked, some will even plan to use the mentee’s Mentoring Action Plan (MAP) to orient their conversation. Things you can do over the next few weeks: Check in with your partner. Call them up. Be candid- ask how they are faring. Do they have a peaceful workspace? How is their family and/or roommates? Tell them what this temporary landscape means for you and why you hope to keep the partnership moving. Use technology to stay focused. Facetime is more intimate than a traditional phone call and makes it easier to gauge interest and reactions. Share your screen in a zoom meeting so that you can both look at the Mentoring Action Plan or Mentoring Agreement without losing your place. Establish new norms. Texting might have seemed too casual a couple of weeks ago, but it might be easier and more intimate now. Perhaps you used to catch up during lunch, but if school is closed and the house is noisy at lunchtime, look to plan morning meetings instead. Be candid about your limitations and ask your partner to do the same. Get out your calendar. Set weekly partner meetings for the next couple of months. It might be surprising how much easier it is to keep a regular meeting schedule when it’s planned in advance. Mentees might even jot down a “theme” for each to ensure that the topics are interesting and relevant to their professional development.

  • 0 Gaining Trust in a Mentoring Relationship

    If you take a moment to reflect on the people who have had the most positive impact on your career, you will likely think of people in whom you had a high degree of trust. When we trust someone, we know that we can communicate openly with them, that we can rely on them to follow through when they commit to do something, and that we can believe and act on their input. Not coincidentally, these are also the building blocks of an effective mentoring partnership. Trust is the foundation of any successful relationship, but especially so in mentoring where mentees must feel safe asking questions and sharing concerns and must have confidence in their mentor’s feedback. While the mentee will drive many aspects of the mentoring relationship, it is the mentor’s responsibility to proactively build trust. Mentors must foster a relationship in which trust can grow steadily. Below are some mentoring behaviors that are key to gaining your mentee’s trust. Start strong. We’ve all heard it before—first impressions are lasting impressions. The level of sincerity and credibility you demonstrate during the initiation, or “getting to know you,” phase will set the tone for the duration of your mentoring relationship. Seemingly simple behaviors, such as being on time, being attentive and interested, and listening more than you talk, communicate to the mentee that you care and are committed. Conversely, being late or canceling meetings, interrupting or dominating the conversation, or forgetting important details from your previous meetings can signal that you don’t take the process (or the person) seriously and can create doubt about your intentions and level of investment. Treat your first few interactions with your mentee as you would a job interview—be on time, be prepared, be focused. Put your best foot forward from the start and you will take a huge step toward gaining your mentee’s trust. Build credibility. To build trust, you must first establish your credibility. In his best-selling book The Speed of Trust, Stephen M.R. Covey defines the four cores of credibility as integrity, intent, capability, and results. Convincing people of your integrity, Covey writes, includes not only being honest, but also congruent—does your behavior match who you say you are and what you say you believe? Showing trustworthy intent involves acting with (or stating outright) motives that are straightforward and based on mutual benefit. Sharing your talents, skills, and knowledge demonstrates your capability. And providing results is simple—do what you said you would do when you said you would do it and invest the effort to do it well. When you exhibit the cores of credibility over a sustained period, your mentee will begin to trust you and see you as a person who is willing and able to help them reach their goals. Be consistent. Trust is not something you earn once and have forever. Trust must be built, nurtured, and maintained. Keeping a person’s trust means consistently demonstrating the characteristics and behaviors (the four cores of credibility) that led them to trust you in the first place. This doesn’t mean that you can never make a mistake—even mentors are human. But it does mean that you should follow through whenever possible, and be willing to take responsibility for mistakes when you make them. (In fact, admitting fault is such a difficult thing for many people that doing so could actually increase your mentee’s trust in you.) Consistent, reliable mentoring behavior will become increasingly important as your relationship deepens and your mentee begins to share their questions, concerns, and challenges. Listen to them without judgment. Be honest in your feedback. Keep what they tell you confidential. Follow up to check on their progress and ask how you can help. Connect them with additional resources or situational mentors. These behaviors will demonstrate your commitment, maintain your mentee’s trust and confidence, and help your mentee grow and achieve their goals. Extend trust. Another key tenet that Covey sets forth in The Speed of Trust is that extending trust to someone else is one of the best and fastest ways to establish and grow trust. “Not only does it build trust,” he writes, “it leverages trust. It creates reciprocity; when you trust people, other people tend to trust you in return.” Extend trust to your mentee by sharing information about yourself. Mentoring means being open and honest about your experiences—including relevant professional missteps or regrets—opinions, and feedback. When you are willing to share, you encourage your mentee to do the same. Trust also means believing that the other person will follow through with what they say they will do. Believe that your mentee is capable of achieving their goals and trust that, with the right resources, guidance, and support, they will do the work they need to do to get where they want to be.  

  • 0 Why Mentoring Matters

    January is National Mentoring Month!  What a perfect time to pause and celebrate the impact your mentors have made in your life.   As I am writing this post, I’m thinking of one of my past mentor Bill Bonnstetter.  Bill was a big part of my personal and professional support system.  Whether it was helping me gain confidence standing up in front of groups, consoling me when a project went south, or pushing me out of my comfort zone—Bill was there to help me reach my full potential.  It goes without saying, mentors boost our spirit, touch our hearts, turn us around and give us honest feedback.  Not always feedback we “want” to hear but “need” to hear.  Mentors are also catalysts.  They help us discover “why our work matters” and how to stand in front of our competition. But mentoring is not just a “nice thing to do.”  It’s a good business decision. Studies have shown that employees stay longer at organizations when they feel their work matters and they are making a difference!  They are not just putting in their time –they are plugged in on many levels (emotionally and intellectually).  Healthy organizations, high performance organizations, the best places to work organizations, know this and create conditions where mentors can do their thing—whatever that thing is (guide, listen, challenge, or teach).  These high performing organizations acknowledge, recognize and support mentors because they know they are making a difference!  Happy National Mentoring Month!  

  • 0 Finding the Perfect Mentoring Match

    Is finding the perfect mentor like finding a needle in haystack?  It doesn’t have to be.  Seeking out the right mentoring match may seem like a daunting task at first, but with a little time investment and self-reflection, the process can yield multiple options.  Mentors are plentiful.  They come in all shapes and sizes.  Thinking through what you want to get out of a partnership before you begin your search usually results in the most rewarding and productive match. So, what type of mentor are you looking for? Technical mentors – People you turn to for professional advice. These mentors generally have a strong reputation for technical excellence. Consider – do you want to connect with a subject-matter expert?  Or maybe you are looking for broad-based experience across a variety of skills and competencies. Relationship mentors – People you can turn to and learn how to develop strategic relationships and partnerships. Relationship mentors also provide a safe environment for you to learn how to deal with difficult people, manage conflict, influence others. Selecting a mentor with whom you can have authentic, honest conversations requires a certain level of chemistry and trust. Navigational mentors – People who can help you understand how to navigate the unwritten rules, corporate culture, and can help you strategize next steps for success within the organization. This mentor can decode the unspoken organizational culture – an agency Sherpa, if you will! It is important to remember that although you might originally have one type of partner in mind (for example, someone like you) being open to new perspectives often yields a perfect and powerful match.  A recent study provided by The Training Connection, Inc. discovered that it is actually the differences that make the best matches:     84% responded favorable in response to differences in experience. Mentors are likely better able to offer mentorees a different point of view through their own experiences. 71% responded favorable in response to differences in behavioral style (DISC). Finding a partner who brings a different behavioral style to the partnership (not too similar, but not too far apart) is very beneficial to the growth and success of the partnership.  (One obvious example - if you are quiet and shy to look for someone who is more outgoing and charming.)  Differences in gender, cultural background, and generation have also made a positive difference. Below are some additional thoughts to keep in mind when beginning your search: Be proactive. Mentorees need to be proactive not just in their mentoring search, but in the partnership as well.  In formal mentoring programs, the programs do not fail, the partnerships do. This occurs when parties are not committed up-front to the process, or clear with their partner if something has changed and they need to end the partnership.  Look for someone outside of your chain of command. It goes without saying that your boss should always be your informal mentor, however in a formal mentoring partnership, the best matches are outside one’s chain of command.  Mentorees are more likely to open up and feel comfortable confiding in someone who does not have input to their performance reviews.  Mentorees need someone who can create a safe space to bounce ideas off of and a mentor who is outside of their immediate day to day work environment can provide that. Thoughtfully commit to the mentoring partnership. The most successful mentoring matches are ones in which both the mentoree and mentor are given a voice in the partnership - meaning the match is not forced and both are willing to give their full attention to the partnership.  Be sure to thoroughly research the mentors background and availability.  Don’t be discouraged if a mentor says they are unavailable.  When requesting a mentor let them know you have others in mind if they are unavailable, this will allow a mentor the option to say no if they do not have time to dedicate to the partnership.  You may find it helpful later on to see if they are available as a situational mentor to enhance a formal partnership.   A situational mentor is the right help at the right time and is usually available to help solve a quick problem, uncover a hidden talent or learn a new skill or behavior.  They can be the perfect enhancement to a formal mentoring partnership. As I mentioned earlier, finding a mentor doesn’t have to be like searching for a needle in a haystack - you simply need to do the homework.  Carefully  thinking through what it is you are looking for in your mentor is sure to result in a fruitful partnership for both you and the mentor.