Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Career changes, career transitions 16: mentors and mentoring

Posted in career development, job search, job search and career development by Timothy Platt on April 1, 2013

This is my sixteenth posting to a series on careers, career development and career transitions, and on looking at work and the work experience from a wider perspective than that of the here and now job or job search (see my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 2, postings 285-299 for Parts 1-15.)

I have been writing about careers and career planning in this series, and from a next step and larger scale perspective. I have written about consulting and other less traveled career paths. I turn in this installment to consider a career activity that I have to admit up-front, I have found tremendously personally rewarding: mentoring. I have gained a great deal of value from others who I have turned to for mentoring advice and I have in turn found it at least as rewarding to help others as a mentor. I add in that context that I have directly gained at least as much value from mentoring others as they have gained from my efforts, as the process of mentoring forces one to really think through issues that have all too often simply been taken for granted.

Many people resist seeking out a mentor, and certainly one higher up on a table of organization then themselves. They fear that this could be seen as their having a lack of confidence in their ability to do their expected job and wonder if revealing questions and an awareness of gaps in a professional knowledge base would be held against them in a performance review, and when being considered for work assignments. They feel uncomfortable approaching someone more experienced than they are at the same nominal level on the table of organization because those people are busy and would not appreciate being taken from their work “to do someone else’s job too.” And on the flip side of this many people resist serving as mentors and particularly for those lower than they are on the table of organization, from concern that they would be seen as playing favorites.

No one knows everything. We each carry and hold knowledge and perspective that is valuable to ourselves and that would benefit others. This is the core imperative behind development of best practices and their sharing and diffusion through an organization – every one of them begins in the mind and hands of some individual who tries it out, perhaps in an early development stage form, and sees that it works. Whether it is called mentoring or not, when the person who comes up with the spark of an idea for a new best practice uses it and shares, it and it spreads out from them – that happens through mentoring sharing. And along the way new variations and refinements are tried and added and further shared, and the result of all of this can at least on occasion become a source of defining value for the business as a whole and a source of its uniquely defining value proposition as a competitive business.

Businesses are social organizations, and mentoring, whether explicitly called that or not, is a part of that and of what makes businesses work. This is where new hires, and employees and managers in transition are brought up to speed for working in their new contexts and when addressing their new challenges. So the resistance and push-back here is largely directed towards the word “mentoring” and certainly where it is viewed as an explicit, organized approach with a mentor who trains and coaches and a mentee who learns from all of this. So the problem is seen to occur when this is done systematically, but not so much when it is simply happening on an ad hoc basis, and intermittently and without any real focus.

If there is one point that I have sought to make in essentially all of my posting series, and in all of my directories and general topic areas in this blog it is that systematic and organized essentially always succeeds more fully and effectively than ad hoc and one-off. Mentoring works and for all parties involved in it. Embrace this as a source of value in your own career planning and development, and when working with others as they pursue their own best-for-them career paths. And then look for ways to limit if not eliminate concerns over possible favoritism and any other potentially legitimate sources of concern that mentoring can raise – depending on how it is implemented.

• Seek out mentors and opportunities to mentor others, and do so both openly and freely. Be that great team player who helps others to work with you and with each other, helping to enable the team as a whole to achieve its best.
• And if you rise in the table of organization, make mentoring one of your tools for developing and diffusing best practices throughout the teams you lead.
• And make widely available mentoring an available resource for helping everyone on those teams to reach the fullest of their potential.

This leads me to the topic of my next series installment where I will explicitly focus on careers, career planning and career development in the ubiquitously connected and interconnected context of the 21st century workplace. Meanwhile, you can find this posting and series at my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 2. I have also posted extensively on jobs and careers-related topics in my first Guide directory page on Job Search and Career Development.

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