In a previous post, I began discussing mentoring relationships. I would like to continue that discussion today, focusing on what it takes to be a good mentoring relationship.
Got What it Takes?
A successful mentoring experience does require a significant prerequisite: a quality person to mentor. A leader who hopes to succeed in mentoring must first hire great people. Too often, executives devote too little time to the hiring process. No wonder that down the road the mentoring of a poorly qualified employee resembles corrective discipline more than a shared growth experience.
Assuming the right persons are in the right jobs, a leader must then do everything possible to help those people feel appreciated, supported, empowered, and fully equipped to complete their tasks. In addition, a leader needs to help the other person understand that success is not just “making the numbers” (competency) but includes developing character as well.
It Takes Time
A good mentoring experience also requires longevity. The leader and the protégé need to stay at it long enough for the relationship to bear mature fruit.
In the late nineties I was talking to the CEO with whom I had been working for about four years. As we were chatting comfortably at the end of a session, he said to me, “Ron, all of the work you do for us around team building, leadership development, and culture improvement is worth every penny. But your real value for me as a CEO is when we have these little chats, one on one, in these relaxing, comfortable, and trusting moments.”
At that moment I began to realize that the aspect of the business I found most enjoyable—talking openly and honestly with the leaders I worked with—was also the aspect they experienced as most valuable. Since that time a sizable percentage of my consulting business comes from personally coaching and mentoring business leaders.
During these moments of honest interaction, leaders are able to talk with me about personal doubts, concerns over the performance of another individual, and innovative ways to tackle new situations. We can do trial run-throughs of an upcoming presentation, a conference call, or a one-on-one meeting with a boss or colleague. Almost anything that is critical to their performance is open to discussion in this relaxed environment. Even personal situations and career decisions are fair game. The mentoring or coaching role is mainly about creating a safe environment to discuss any topic.
It Takes Vulnerability
One of the hallmarks of a long-term mentoring relationship is the intentional vulnerability that develops between two people. This means they can easily strip away the outside masks and get down to the issues (both personal and business) that need attention. This kind of openness and willingness to share the truth is a quality found in effective leaders. They refuse to let pride get in the way of open communication that will encourage and assist others and advance the cause of the organization.
If these characteristics of a solid mentoring relationship remind you of a good friendship, you are right. Research data and our experience indicate that, more often than not, mentoring relationships grow over time into lasting friendships.