January is Leadership Month.
And at Vanguard we believe leadership happens at every level, which includes being a great mentor, or giving back (or paying forward) every step of the way.
According to Forbes, mentoring is a time honored practice that has served us as a society for thousands of years in order to pass on expertise:
“We should all be learning from others (playing the mentee role) and teaching others (being the mentor) throughout our careers.”
I know I am both learning and taking the time to let team members see my thought processes, missteps and successes every step of the way. To me, pride or ego limits the potential. Being authentic with clear boundaries and a vision forward are more important.
This is why at Vanguard we view learning on the job via mentorship as something critical. And, we don’t define it as a senior level employee taking on a junior level one, but rather a mutual relationship built upon respect, trust, and expertise that is encouraged between and amongst everyone.
But it IS up to leadership to set the example and lead the way.
So I’ve asked a few members of the Vanguard team to share their thoughts on what they think mentorship means and how to be a good mentor/mentee.
Brenda Foster, Senior Vice President/Health + Wellness:
- Mentorship should be a two-way street. Even if you’re the mentee, think about what you can offer to your mentor in the form of contacts, ideas, shared projects, or references. As a mentor, look for opportunities to learn from your mentee, from emerging practices to work style trends.
- Learn to recognize mentors, even when the relationships haven’t been formalized. The whole of your life will be shaped by many different individuals—some of whom are in your life daily and others who have stepped in for just a short period of time.
LeAnne DeFrancesco, Vice President/Design + Editorial:
- Be specific about what you want to learn from your mentor. While you can keep conversations and learning opportunities loose for some interactions, I find that if someone comes to me with a specific question, like “How do you begin the writing process?” instead of “How can I be a better writer?”, it gives you a better place to start from, and you build from there.
- Keep an open mind about what a person can share with you. Even though they have technical expertise you want to absorb, they (or others) might also have fantastic organizational skills, or time management skills, or diplomacy skills. All of these are useful to know as you build a career and make yourself a valuable team member.
Ryan Parks, Account Supervisor:
- If your mentee expresses interest in pursuing a subject matter or area of leadership that isn’t congruent with your expertise, don’t try to wing it by yourself. Connect her/him to the right people and resources. Create a mentorship team that uses shared knowledge and experience to lead her/him down the right path.
Meredith Harris, Communications Associate:
- A great way to learn from your supervisor is to have a weekly or bi-weekly check in meeting. These meetings give you the opportunity to ask questions and talk about projects, deadlines, and how he or she manages their time. These meetings also give you a chance to discuss skills you have developed and share challenges you have encountered and how you overcame them.
As a company executive, it is not enough to just ask people to “just mentor each other.” Minus a few exceptions, I personally have never seen company-enforced mentor programs last.
It comes down to what values and behaviors the company rewards – anything beyond is a “nice to have” and not essential.
However, if mentoring is evaluated, encouraged, exampled (as in living by) and rewarded by leadership, the behavior becomes part of the norm.
A few ways we do this at Vanguard:
- Consider ourselves one team and each other’s support system – not divisions “owned” by a manager. That means behind the scenes it’s not about being perfect, but showing humility, openness, and willingness to do what’s best for our clients and each other. It’s not how late you stay in the office, but how well you serve as a team member at every level.
- Respond to mistakes with patience and insisting on solutions and lessons learned, rather than finger pointing, blame, and shaming each other.
- We encourage staff on all levels to practice active listening. That means a bigger investment in each other’s needs and successes.
- We also encourage staff at all levels to present smart strategies AND lessons they’ve learned from failures at monthly All-Staff meetings so everyone can learn and grow… and move on without negatively labeling each other.
- Basing our review system on our corporate values, which include collaboration and a motivation to grow, learn and ‘become’ all we can be as practitioners, individuals, team members, and leaders.
For more resources on how to be an effective mentor, we recommend checking out a few articles:
- “Why Mentoring Matters in a Hypercompetitive World” from Harvard Business Review
- “7 Key Qualities of an Effective Mentor” from Inc.
- “How To Be a Great Mentor” from Forbes.
- “Mentoring Tips: How Mentor and Mentee Can Make the Most of It” from The Guardian.