Making the Most of Mentorship

Manager, coach, mentor, supervisor. They all mean the same thing, right?

As a manager, coaching is part of your job. You have to “manage” your subordinates. It’s right in your job title.

Mentoring, however, is not coaching. Mentoring is an entirely different type of employee development. Crucial to the success of this relationship is that the mentor is interested in, and actually likes, the person they are mentoring. The mentor also needs the time, the bandwidth, and the inclination to be an example for their mentee. For the mentee, the mentor must be someone they look up to, someone they respect. Mentorship progresses through the clearly defined stages of initiation, cultivation, separation, and redefinition phases through its life cycle.

In the initiation phase the mentor and mentee begin to form their relationship. Unlike a coaching relationship, mentoring in not limited to just “on-the-job” guidance. Social engagement is also important in the development of a high performer.

As the relationship progresses, it transitions into the cultivation phase. In this phase, the mentorship partners learn more about each other’s capabilities and develop means to optimize the benefits of participating in the mentorship. The mentor should attend to their mentees’ needs and listen to their concerns. Also, mentee participation in training and workshops, quality leader-member exchange, and career mentoring support relates positively to a mentee’s perception that the organization supports their development.

As the mentee begins to develop and become more confident in their abilities, the mentorship transitions again into the separation phase. During this phase, the guidance provided by the mentor decreases and the mentee acts with more independence and autonomy. The mentor continues to be available to guide the mentee, but the mentee has enough experience at this point to make well thought out decisions on their own.

Finally, the mentor and mentee enter a redefinition phase in their relationship. At this point the formal partnership is terminated and the partners evolve their relationship into one of informational contact and mutual support.

As more executives transition from organization to organization, long-term mentorships become increasingly difficult to sustain. Recent research suggests that relying on a single mentor throughout your career may not be the best option. Instead, mentees should seek out to expand from a single mentor into a constellation of mentors.

We know that what happens in the first few years in one’s professional career is an investment in one’s future. Why not make the most of it? January is National Mentoring Month. Make a resolution to be both a leader and a learner as you enter the new year with a fresh perspective!  

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