A Mentor Trumps a Boss. Always.

by Wendy Sack on March 10, 2014

mentor-corkboard-300x200I usually blog about topics relevant to growing your business; this week is no different, but we’re going to take a look at how the boss/employee relationship can make your productivity soar.

A wise woman once told me that you should only hire someone whom you could see eventually being your replacement. At the time I thought she was crazy. I was still in college, working as a co-op and as green as they come to the corporate world.

“Why would you do that?” I thought to myself. “Wouldn’t you always be worried that this person would, in fact, eventually replace you?!”

What a poor attitude, right? More like, what an inner admission of poor self esteem.

I was fortunate enough to be hired by and continue working for this woman for several years, she as a direct supervisor and then a member of senior management. To this day, I will tell you that I learned more from her than I did in all my years of college. Sure, my professors taught me how to write effectively, but she taught me how to engage effectively with others and how to be a part of a team- a team of people from different countries and cultures, and how to do so with confidence. At times I would become discouraged that I didn’t have the business acumen that comes with years of experience, but she would always say to me, “You have to forgive yourself your learning curve. You’ll get there.”

She was my mentor.

I was reading a great blog on mentoring from the Harvard Business Review titled “How GE Gives Leaders Time to Mentor and Reflect.”

 

Here’s an excerpt:

Launched in 2010, the Leader in Residence program is emblematic of a broader shift from prescriptive to collaborative learning taking place at Crotonville and elsewhere. In a complex environment, learning comes from a combination of discovery, dialogue, experience, reflection, and application. At Crotonville, we bring people from all over the world and from different businesses and contexts. We have to create the opportunity for each person to teach and learn, simultaneously, enhancing everyone’s perspective. David, like other leaders, uses this as a listening post — a venue to capture what’s happening around the company and the world in an encapsulated way…with Crotonville providing the opportunity to listen, test, validate, and absorb on the one hand, and to share, push, elaborate, and support the students on the other.

In all, the program has enabled some 75 of our top leaders and thousands of participants to connect on a human level and to reflect on work, self, and career in a way that would never be possible in either a traditional classroom or office setting. By giving leaders access to deeper levels across the organization, and, in turn, providing participants access to senior leadership, we have created greater cohesiveness throughout the company. We have never had a problem filling out classes even during the most trying of times. Based on the success of the program, as measured through participant surveys and feedback, we recently launched a global version (74% of Crotonville experiences are delivered outside the United States currently).

 

I sincerely believe that mentors are a must-have for every employee, especially those new to the workforce. Just think how much more effective your organization could be if each and every person felt lifted-up, valued and essential? Is this true for your organization today?

 

If you don’t want to take my word for it, here’s Sir Richard Branson’s take on my mentoring is needed:

Mentoring was very important for me personally. For example, Sir Freddie Laker gave me invaluable advice and guidance as we set up Virgin Atlantic, while my mum has been a mentor throughout my life. Nowadays, I find mentors inside and outside of Virgin every day. If you ask any successful businessperson, they will always have had a great mentor at some point along the road. If you want success then it takes hard work, hard work and more hard work. But it also takes a little help along the way. If you are determined and enthusiastic then people will support you.

 

At let’s not forget that you’re never too old to learn. That’s right, more and more companies are beginning the process of what is called reverse mentoring.

Picture it, Sicily 1930. (If that made you giggle, then I know you’re a part of my generation.) But seriously, picture it: the older men and women who’ve been with your company for decades. They are revered. They are respected. They are terrified of social media. That’s where reverse mentoring comes in!

 

From “Reverse mentoring: students teach executives about social media, tech and more” via the Miami Herald:

The wave of 20-somethings heading into the working world know how to amass Twitter followers. They know how to text-message with their eyes closed. And they know how to digitally connect with influencers who can send business their way. Now, older workers must look to them to teach us how to be innovative.

In a trend called reverse mentoring, companies are pairing grizzled veterans with young up-and-comers. The arrangement works to retain eager millennials and keep older executives technologically and socially relevant. It’s going on at big companies including Cisco, Johnson & Johnson and Mars Inc., where formal programs are in place. It also has taken off at small companies, where informal reverse mentor relationships are born from mutual respect and candor.

Reverse mentoring is gaining traction for all the right reasons, says Terri Scandura, a professor of management at the University of Miami School of Business Administration. Even baby boomers who might bristle at the idea of being mentored realize the value in learning what motivates Gen Y and how to market to them, she says.

Last week, Citibank became one of those one of those businesses to tap into the digital wisdom of the younger generation. It launched a program that will pair 15 senior executives from the bank’s Latin America regional office with 15 graduate and undergraduate University of Miami business students. The duos will meet at least once a week for six months to work on specific projects that will take a fresh look at mobile payments, communicating with millennial generation customers, social media, the digital retail business and creating compelling job pitches for young talent.

“Our senior executives need to clearly understand trends and what motivates the new set of young professionals,” says Jorge Ruiz, who is based in Miami and is the head of digital banking for Citibank’s Latin America office. “They are not just our future clients but also our next leaders.”

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The bottom line: No matter what your age, a mentor can be just the thing you need to push you in the right direction. These relationships only stand to improve your organization’s workforce and productivity.

 

Image Credit: careergirlnetwork.com

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