“We’re interested in starting a mentoring program for our members,” a nonprofit leader recently said to me. “But we don’t know where to begin. Do you have any advice for us?”
Mentoring is a great way to develop employees or further cultivate members. Think back:
Have you ever had someone who saw promise in you,
who saw something in you that you couldn’t see yourself?
Understanding how mentors, mentees, and the organization can benefit from mentorship programs in the workplace is the first step of creating an effective program.
Like me, you might be a fan of the Food Network, the TV channel that’s all about creating great food and great food experiences.
If you follow the chef Guy Fieri – host of the Food Network show Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, which profiles viewer-nominated local eateries around the U.S. – you might know about his latest project, Guy’s Big Project.
On the show, Fieri mentors a group of competing chefs who’d like to become the host of a new show on the Food Network. The focus is on teaching them what it takes to be a good chef – on TV.
“A mentor is someone who sees more talent and ability within you, than you see in yourself, and helps bring it out of you.”
-- Bob Proctor
What’s involved in becoming a mentor, like Fieri or other leaders you might know of?
First, it’s useful to think about how mentoring is beneficial. Michael Page identified some of the many ways mentoring can benefit you, and others.
“Exposure to new ideas and ways of thinking
Advice on developing strengths and overcoming weaknesses
Guidance on professional development and advancement
Increased visibility and recognition within the company
The opportunity to develop new skills and knowledge”
We all have competing limitations on our time and talents. How could becoming a mentor give you a leg up as a professional?
On Guy’s Big Project, Fieri also taps into the expertise and experience of fellow Food Network chefs in advising the competitors, which also develops his own skills and talents.
“Recognition as a subject matter expert and leader
Exposure to fresh perspectives, ideas and approaches
Extension of their professional development record
Opportunity to reflect on their own goals and practices
Development of their personal leadership and coaching styles”
If you’re in a leadership role in your organization, it’s valuable to consider implementing an informal or formal mentoring program. The Food Network benefits by improving the skills and talents of its existing stars, and by providing a way to bring in new chefs with fresh ideas. (Plus, it makes for great TV!)
Here are some of the many reasons why all kinds of employers can benefit from mentoring programs.
“Develop a culture of personal and professional growth
Share desired company behaviours and attitudes
Enhance leadership and coaching skills in managers
Improve staff morale, performance and motivation
Engage, retain and develop performers”
Finally, think back to a time when someone mentored you. What was it about the experience that was productive?
Positive mentors, like Fieri and others, share several basic qualities that Mentor: The National Mentoring Partnership, identify:
A sincere desire to make a positive difference in the life/career of another
Respect for others
Active listening skills
Ability to see solutions and opportunities
If your organization is considering a mentoring program, check out this comparison of formal and informal mentoring programs from Lois Zachary in TD Magazine, the magazine of the Association for Talent Development.
Seeking a Mentor for Yourself
Often informal mentoring can be as productive as formal programs. As a career professional, a few good guidelines to consider when establishing an informal mentoring relationship with a senior colleague include:
Be specific in your “ask” – “I’m looking to learn X”
Be sure the mentorship is something that benefits both parties
Agree on milestones
Agree on confidentiality
Set a time parameter, and check in
Honor their time/the relationship
Thank the mentor
Finally, consider participating in external mentoring networks like Everwise (hat tip to Victoria Powers), or check with your professional association to see if informal or formal mentoring is available (or could be established).
Fieri’s project is a great example of how mentoring can work -- for mentors and for mentees -- by teaching others how to be successful. The organization benefits as well. To learn who wins the Guy’s Big Project challenge, and to see mentoring in action on the program, check out episodes of the show on the Food Network.