The power of mentoring and how to do it effectively

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By Serendis

July 28, 2017

Much has been written about the merits of mentoring. From personal experience, having facilitated cross-sector and internal mentoring programs for several years, I have observed how structured mentoring operates as a powerful lever to accompany individual, organisational and sector change.

Serendis’ mentoring programs are designed to contribute not only to the career progression of individuals, but to educate senior leaders and influencers (the mentors) on the benefits of creating a culture of inclusion that enhances and leverages a diversity of thoughts and profiles for better business outcomes.

Through seven years of refining our cross-sector mentoring programs for the banking and finance industry and more recently, for the Property Council of Australia, this year we are excited to have developed and launched two new cross-sector mentoring programs: one for the Australian drinks industry (on behalf of The Drinks Association) and the other for the health and medical research sector (on behalf of Franklin Women).

In all our mentoring programs, mentors from each sector share their own experiences with mentees while also learning to enable real cultural change within their organisations. By facilitating impactful mentoring conversations for male and female leaders, these connections help to develop a different perspective, educate industry leaders and influencers on the issue of inclusion and diversity while enhancing cross-functional connections, networks, and developing career pathways for mentees.

There are a number of ways in which mentoring can be used, depending on the mentee’s learning and development goals. The focus of the relationship may be on career or professional development, enhancing leadership skills or providing general support and a sounding board for career progression.

Our programs are a soft skill development opportunity where mentees discuss their career orientation and leadership development as opposed to drawing purely on their mentor’s technical expertise.

Mentees are assisted to identify areas where they can develop their professional capability, positive leadership behaviours and understanding of their organisation’s strategic direction and business objectives among other capabilities.

The learning takes place via facilitated group sessions, one on one sessions with their mentors, and discussions with peers from the sector. Learning how to influence stakeholders, how to develop others within your team, or how to communicate vision and purpose, are just some of the capabilities on offer.

And so it is that each year, with great anticipation, the Serendis team and I welcome the many mentors and mentees onto the different sector programs for their six month experience. We gently guide their individual journeys towards the goal of becoming inclusive leaders in their fields and we celebrate their insights and successes along the way.

For those who are interested in mentoring or already mentor informally, below we have provided a checklist of tips to take your mentoring to the next level, ensuring you and your mentee are having meaningful and constructive conversations that will allow you to achieve your goals.

Tips for effective mentoring

Establish some structure

A good start is where you get to know each other, establish rapport and trust, understand each other’s expectations and identify a set of mutually agreed goals. Agreement on goals and responsibilities is particularly important. If these are defined and agreed, the mentoring relationship will be off to a good start.

 Support your mentee to drive the agenda and develop a plan for success

Your mentee is responsible for their success. As a mentor, your role is to support them on the path they choose. Sometimes, you will also have to help bring clarity to their goals. Key questions include: “Where would you like to be in five years’ time? What do you need to achieve in the next 12 months that will enhance your career? What will success look like for your participation in this mentoring program?”

Ask questions – it is often more powerful than giving answers

The best mentors help their mentees to find solutions on their own. Asking the right questions will often lead your mentee to their best ideas, to those moments of epiphany where the path becomes clearer for them. This will always be more powerful than being told what to do. If you feel you really have to suggest solutions to help your mentee, the following questions can be powerful as well: “What do you think would happen if you tried…?”, “What alternative strategies have you considered?”, “How do you think person X would react if you did that?” An important aspect of your role is also to share your personal experience. Make sure to share stories and personal learning rather than telling what your mentee should do in a particular situation. After sharing your story, ask them how this may apply to their own circumstances.

Provide different perspectives and challenge the behaviour, not the person

One of the most challenging moments in a career is the giving and receiving of feedback. As a mentor, you will have established a level of rapport and trust with your mentee that allows you to do this in a constructive and safe way.

Your role as a mentor is to make sure that you are bringing to your mentee’s attention a perspective that they may not have seen before. This will be a powerful way for them to change their mindset, their attitude, their approach to particular issues, people or challenges.

Sometimes, this different perspective involves giving them feedback about what you have observed in what they have said to you or the way they have interacted with you. This feedback can have a tremendous impact on their day to day interactions with others particularly if no one else has given them this feedback. When doing so, make sure to challenge your mentee’s behaviour as opposed to their personality or who they are. As an example, you could say: ‘I have noticed that you have described this situation in quite an emotional way, I wonder if you could try to approach it more factually for a more powerful impact with your stakeholders?’

Setting Actions

The difference between coffee catch ups and mentoring will lie on the commitments that your mentee makes after each session to try something new, progress their plan and implement specific actions you have discussed together. As a mentor, your role is to hold them accountable for these commitments and make sure you conclude each session with a review of the actions that your mentee decided to take.

Embedding Change

As you progress throughout your sessions, it is highly recommended to introduce some regular check-ins and reflections around your mentee’s key take-aways, insights and learning. In doing this, you provide a basis for longer-term impact and positive change.