Is it possible to have a somewhat formalized mentoring program in an organization or for one person to mentor large numbers of people? It depends.
I am not a fan of highly structured corporate mentoring programs. In reality, these large, generic approaches are often too loose and impersonal to give the life-changing attention we advocate. Developing others is work, some of the most challenging work any of us will ever do. Leaders must be ready to stick with it through thick and thin.
A solid mentoring culture will not exist with just a “pretty face.” Trust takes a huge blow if you promise to mentor people but fail to follow through over the long haul.
So is mentoring even feasible in a flat organization in which a leader may have eleven to fifteen direct-reports? Our advice is to be careful. Your only reasonable hope is to approach the task with a broader focus on “team.”
Bo Schembechler, the great former coach of the University of Michigan football team, was once asked on a radio talk show how he was able to sustain a winning program over so many years when such a large percentage of his best players graduated each year. His response was, “X’s and O’s are fun, but if you want a winning program, you have to get out with your players and build a team.”
Coach Schembechler clearly understood the dynamic and need of mentoring and building a team. His entire mentoring efforts were driven to build teamwork and team execution. He probably felt that his assistant coaches could individually mentor certain players under their care. However, as head coach, Bo Schembechler mentored all of the football players on how to be a successful team. He did it by focusing attention away from individual needs to the greater needs, goals, values, and vision of the team. He did not intend to build individuals; he intended to build a unit.
Leaders are meant to lead teams, not individuals. Team mentoring continues this purpose.
Too often I have worked with leaders who don’t feel it’s their job to build a team. Their attitude is that they have great people on the team; they are all successful, mature adults and will get along just fine. Wrong. Coach Schembechler understood the value of actually building a team that eventually would win the Big Ten championship. It would be the team that carried on the Michigan values to the next set of incoming freshman. Building a team was the key to sustaining success over a long period of time in spite of constantly changing team members and conditions.
The ultimate message of mentoring is to nurture positive people. Team mentoring nurtures positive cultures. We trust in people. We trust in ourselves and focus on helping and teaching. What changes do you need to make to be a great mentor?