Mentorships produce cycle of great leaders with a great responsibility to raise others up
As companies adjust to doing business post pandemic, many changes will be required. Rebuilding the economy is going to take more than a little grit and ingenuity—it’s also going to take a completely new mindset and a whole lot of teamwork.
Employees will likely need to take on additional roles while their organization examines new ways to do more with less. Access to training is critically important right now, and so is mentoring from the top down and bottom up.
“I think as business grows, and with all of the challenges we’ve faced this year alone, we have to find ways to do things differently—not just to scale, but to really grow as an organization,” says Michelle Mikesell, Vice President of Corporate HR for G&A Partners. “You can’t do that, in my opinion, without mentoring.”
What does a mentorship entail?
Mentoring, at its basic level, is a sharing of valuable lessons gleaned from experience. The mentor has life and work experience that the mentee (i.e. person being mentored) can use to build their confidence, expand their knowledge, and improve their skill level.
“Good mentors already have those leadership traits and qualities we look for in an ideal boss,” Mikesell says. “It’s typically a person with some street cred and enough experience to show you the ropes. A good mentor can take your career to astronomical levels if you let them.”
Who makes the best mentor?
Traditionally, the mentor is a more senior coworker or leader who trains and advises a more junior colleague. Mikesell says the relationship works best when the mentor works for another department and doesn’t have any “skin in the game” when it comes to the mentee’s career trajectory.
“Your mentor needs to be outside your sphere of influence,” she advises. “It’s really hard to practice radical candor and be brutally honest with someone that works for you. Your mentor has to be able to tell you, ‘Hey you handled that situation poorly in that meeting. Here are some things I saw and thought, and here’s why.’ And there should be no personal gain for the mentor when doing that; it’s all about the development of the person being mentored.”
Mikesell says the best mentors are people who have a passion for helping others and who aren’t afraid to share their experiences—their successes and their failures. Both the mentor and the mentee will need to fully commit to the relationship, too. She says the most successful mentorships occur when both parties put in the overtime to ensure goals are defined, milestones are measured, and achievements are celebrated.
“I had a mentor I will remember for my entire life,” Mikesell recalls. “He was in leadership, so he was able to put me in situations that I wasn’t quite ready for. He knew I wanted to be in those situations, though. Sometimes he’d leave me completely on my own so that afterward he could tell me what I did wrong. And sometimes he’d coach me before going in. But I always knew I was in a safe space while working with him. That makes all the difference.”
Does age matter in a mentor?
Mentors come in all ages and areas of expertise. As new generations of people enter the workforce already familiar with the latest technology, many organizations have found that “reverse mentoring” can be beneficial as well.
“As the whole workforce changes, with the COVID pandemic and all these other things, we have to be adaptable to change,” Mikesell says. “Reverse mentoring can be really helpful—especially for folks who are set in their ways or who have done things one way for so long. It really helps them flex that change muscle.”
And things are changing, she says. The rapid evolution of technology and other socioeconomic and environmental factors affecting commerce make it imperative for the workforce to keep pace and adapt as necessary.
“If you intend to work and operate in the world as we know it, there are things you need to know that aren’t intuitive to you,” Mikesell says. “If you are someone who has had a long career in a field that might be diminishing due to technological advances and automation, you should embrace the idea of reverse mentoring and perhaps seek it out.
“Sometimes we make assumptions based on what our perceptions are and what we know, but we really need to see it from the way it was intended—from a different perspective. Sometimes that perspective is not historical, it’s younger than we are.”
Why mentorships matter
Organizations can invest in their employees in many ways, but when the budget is tight, encouraging mentorships could be the best way to have a major positive impact without breaking the bank. When employees feel empowered to share their ideas and pursue their career ambitions, they are more engaged and loyal to their organizations.
“Folks leave organizations where they don’t feel a connection,” Mikesell says. “Mentoring provides a powerful, powerful connection to a company and to that company’s culture.”
Experiencing different viewpoints and learning critical leadership skills is invaluable, Mikesell says. Sharing success stories and stories about failure creates a bond and illustrates the human side of leadership.
“We all have our own preconceived notions of how something is or why something is happening, and I think mentorships help us look at things a little bit different,” Mikesell says. “When your mentor helps you take risks and step outside your comfort zone to try or consider different things, you’re going to be able to do that better when it’s your turn to lead people because you’ve seen it in action and felt how it worked for you.”
Mikesell says she likes to quote Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben to current and future leaders: “With great power, comes great responsibility.”
“I think anyone who is in a leadership role—if they’re good at it—has the responsibility to give back,” she says. “And I think the best way to give back is to mentor someone coming up.”