My approach to mentoring formed during my years as a founder and CEO of six businesses. I had a range of mentors and advisers who made substantial contributions to my life and career. I also encountered people who were not very helpful – even though they contended that they were trying to be. What I noticed was that the ones who saw me as a person – even a friend – were generally contributive while those who saw me as a client were not.
Mentoring tends to come in two basic flavors. The first one I call humanistic while the second is anti-humanistic. The second type seeks to maintain a distance and formality between the client and the mentor. The mentors tend to come across as detached and superior to those they mentor. For me they are more consultants than mentors – their efforts are mostly ineffective.
I don not believe that you can effectively mentor a person until you get inside their head and see through their eyes. Mentors who see the world through a specific perspective, ideology or system tend to ignore this and approach mentoring in a one-size-fits-all approach. My own mentoring is friendly and forthcoming with clients. I stand alongside them, assist and guide them in every way possible. I mentor the person as well as the professional. As a professional mentor, I do insist on discipline and focus – accountability and focus – but I also realize that my clients are human beings – not just professionals – and need support and encouragement from me. Here are six parts of my approach to mentoring:
· A good mentoring relationship involves mutual respect: I work to avoid co-dependent relationships. An executive mentor who keeps you at a distance and does not truly become involved with any of the issues that you are facing as an executive, is structuring a dependence relationship which will sacrifice your personal and professional development to their ‘vision’ of human relationships. You need to realize that some approaches to mentoring are limiting rather than empowering.
· Both sides need to bring a willingness to invest in the relationship: Beware of mentors who see mentoring engagements as a ‘job’. They should view mentoring as something they greatly enjoy. Their enthusiasm will quickly become contagious and you will reap many benefits! Friends want to see each other grow and develop as healthy and effective persons. Also, avoid mentors who do not seem to require you to bring commitment to the engagement. Change is not easy and mentors who substitute slick saying for hard work are simply out to relieve you of some of your hard earned money.
· Change takes time and perseverance: This means the relationship between yourself and your mentor should be one that literally stands the test of time. Nothing worthwhile is accomplished overnight or with the snap of your fingers. Your mentor should be there for you through both good times and the bad times. You should have the same commitment to the engagement. Not every session will be a quiet walk through a summer meadow but rainstorms are sometimes just what the doctor ordered. Beware of ‘fair-weather’ mentors and do not become a ‘fair weather’ client.
· True friendship is based on trust: If you cannot trust your mentor, you will probably not get much out of the mentoring engagement. Too many people skip or slide through the selection of a mentor. You should pick on who has lots of experience in the things you are most interested in learning about. As an example, having been a six-time CEO, I can mentor CEOs in a way that mentors who have never successfully filled that role cannot. Relevant experience is especially critical for effective executive mentoring. In order to get the most out of the mentoring, the client needs to trust his mentor. If the client does not have a sufficient level of trust, they will not be able to discuss openly and honestly the challenges, fears and opportunities, then the mentor will not be able to assist them effectively.
· Good mentoring involved unconditional positive respect: A successful relationship between an client and mentor should have at its core, an unconditional and positive respect for each other. The core idea here is that the mentor and the client are in it together – the success of the engagement depends on both of them – and failure is not an option. Accordingly, each person will encourage each other to achieve their highest potential possible so that they can experience the best that life has to offer them. That may sound a bit strange at first but every client has added to my understanding and mentoring ability. If I forget for a moment to honor that fact, I loose the path forward.
· Good mentoring is accountable: I am big on goal setting and accountability. I do it in my own life and expect it from my clients. We are, after all, about improvement – whether in executive or leadership skills. This means that the client should concentrate on working towards the overcoming challenges and taking advantage of opportunities. In addition, for the mentor it means focusing their energy towards encouraging the possibilities and as well as developing the client’s potential. Accountability is the concept that holds client and mentor in a relationship that yields benefits to the client. Without it, you are just having coffee with a friend – and paying for the privilege.
A good mentoring engagement will always include aspects of a healthy friendship; the mentor should always be ready and willing to stick by your side as you navigate through the executive corporate world. As humans, we experience both good days and bad days. The advantage of a good executive mentor is that they will stand by your side on both days. Remember, always select a mentor who will value your friendship and who will work with you and for you to succeed. If you want to learn more about my approach to mentoring, send me an e-mail and we will arrange a time to talk.
© Dr. Earl R. Smith II