The Overlooked Potentials of Mentoring

Ken Perlman, an Engagement Leader at Kotter International recently published an article on the invaluable yet often overlooked benefits of mentorship. Perlman, in his piece, discusses the two-way benefits of mentorship (both to the mentor and the individual receiving the mentoring). Perlman provides a compelling perspective in his concluding paragraph:

“Finally, I see many recent graduates looking to their friends and peers for advice. While this is a good perspective to have, the power of a mentor who can provide a different perspective, relate different leadership experiences, and ask a different set of questions is critically important. Part of this “we know better” thinking may come from the expectation that new will disrupt old, simply based on its ‘awesomeness’. The danger is that people can far too easily filter out views and opinions different than their own simply by changing the channel or subscribing to a different RSS or Twitter feed.”

This got me thinking about how the easy access to social media has led younger generations to often overlook the benefits of the so called “traditional” or “old-school” in-person method of mentoring that has immense benefits for both the mentor and protégé. Informal mentoring via social media feeds can be faster and easier to access thereby making it lucrative for the hasty. Moreover as Perlman outlines, it is convenient to filter out views that are different from one’s own by simply subscribing to a different Twitter feed or changing a channel subscription.

In-person mentoring relationships are recognised as a pivotal career resource in organisations. Mentors are typically individuals with advanced experience and knowledge who are committed to providing support and advancing vertical career mobility for their protégés (Ragins and Scandura, 1994). Mentoring is known to be associated with several benefits such as promotions, professional growth and employee engagement. A 2016 millennial survey by Deloitte revealed that mentoring can play a profound role in retaining high-performing millennial talent and individuals who had a mentor saw great advancement in their leadership skills, requisite to vertically advance their careers.

In line with Perlman’s argument, I also believe that with greater access to social media and peer-to-peer career conversations, we tend to overlook the benefits an experienced mentor brings to the table. Though mentoring is beneficial to a mentor in many ways (it brings them internal satisfaction, they also benefit from the youthful and creative energies of their protégés and finally they get recognition for playing an influential role in up-skilling young talent), there are also costs involved. One such cost is the time and energy that these senior leaders spend on mentoring, in spite of having packed calendars and strenuous work schedules. Also, while a peer can give you great advice, it is important to remember that senior mentors have moved up the exact same career ladder that we aspire to climb and they can give us advice that is backed with substantial and weighty experiences of successes and failures.

Mentoring also has immense benefits from a Diversity and Inclusion perspective. A recently published HBR article outlines how Inclusion programmes can fail owing to a lack of effective mentoring that aids in chipping away biases in both managers and team members. Furthermore, owing to the scant number of women in leadership positions, it is imperative for companies to focus on high-performing women and up-skill them with the requisite leadership skills for next level careers. Mentors can provide these young women with newer perspectives, expose them to diverse leadership styles and sponsor them for vertical advancement. Mentoring from senior leaders has had a profound influence in my own personal career as a woman too. I have had some exemplary male mentors who have exposed me to diverse leadership styles, sponsored me for challenging roles and have given me a seat and a voice in important executive committee meetings.

In sum, mentoring from an experienced leader can have tremendous benefits for organisations and protégés alike and perhaps it is time we use this invaluable tool to help us leverage and advance skills of young talent, especially for those who have limited access to such opportunities.

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