The year—1984. My first corporate mentor was my supervisor in a Fortune 200 company, a man named Jan, who possessed the ability to talk without pausing. Jan helped me find my own voice in what seemed at first to me an intimidating corporate setting. His advice—start small; prepare one thing to say during each staff meeting. Over time, Jan encouraged me to grow bolder in sharing my opinions and ideas.
Jan paid attention to my interests, offering me projects and outside training that helped me follow those interests. Under his tutelage—and later another wise supervisor, Lou, I grew professionally and personally, becoming more confident, finding ways to be me within the corporate culture of a large corporation. As a woman whose parents had never worked in a corporate environment, this mentoring was essential to my very survival.
Two decades later, mentoring has become more sophisticated and established within organizations and there is even a month to celebrate it— January is National Mentoring Month. According to Insala.com, a company that specializes in career development, “by 2007, 71% of Fortune 500 companies had a formal mentoring program (Lydell Bridgeford, August 1, 2007)” and “69% of surveyed companies, representing a wide variety of industries, have formal mentoring programs…Of those, 74% have mentoring programs dedicated to women(Catalyst, 2006).”
Some of the most successful mentoring programs last 6-9 months with specific, targeted goals and both parties are mentored: Junior executives receive support individually while the mentors receive group mentoring.
Many companies now assign specific mentors outside the supervisor relationship to mentor promising employees, specifically young executives. Some of these programs especially target women and minorities, in order to retain talent and grow leadership by women and minorities. Some hire external coaches in an even more formal—and usually more time intensive—process. While some may argue that executive coaching is different from mentoring, one may see coaching at one end of the mentoring continuum, and a role that includes additional skills and requirements. For the purposes of this article, I have included coaching as one type of mentoring.
Teri Scheinzeit, abusiness coach, who was awarded Coach/Mentor of the Year in 2011 by the Stevie Awards for Women in business, is hired by both individuals and their companies to coach/mentor promising executives. She points out, “Corporations now understand the benefits of mentoring, which promotes growth in a safe, nurturing environment. In order to retain employees, increase learning and encourage leadership, many large corporations now have formal mentoring programs.”
A former HR executive for Coca-Cola, where she mentored employees both formally and informally, Angela Fletcher now consults for several large companies that have mentoring programs, where leaders within the organization mentor junior associates and high-potential leaders. Clients include Delta Air Lines and Fletcher notes that such programs are the norm in large organizations. She has served for the past five years as an external mentor at Cox Automotive – a division of Cox Enterprises. In matching outside executives (rather than internal ones) with high-potential leaders for a one-year experience, Fletcher says this difference encourages diversity of thought and greater transparency, among others things. “I believe other organizations can benefit from this distinctive approach.”
Large companies are not the only ones developing mentoring programs. Many entrepreneurs, too—this writer included—know the value of mentoring and often both a) seek informal unpaid mentors and b) hire coaches to support the achievement of specific goals.
The Evolution of Mentoring
Mentoring has become far more sophisticated in the past two decades. Here are 6 trends that can help you get the support to enjoy a successful and deeply satisfying career:
5 Trends in Mentoring (and its sister, Coaching)
- Women are More Savvy about Getting Mentored (than they used to be): According to a study done by Linkedin of more an 1,000 U.S. women, 82 percent agree that having a mentor is important. Of the respondents in the study, more than half of Gen Y women had been mentored by a woman, up from only 34% of Boomers. If a woman can't get the mentoring she needs within her company, she is much more likely to seek mentorship from outside—through professional organizations, professional networks and private/paid coaching. As Karl Moore and Sienna Zampino point out in an article on Forbes.com, Millennials, in particular, “have grown up with the notion that one must constantly seek the advice of another, and social media has put this notion on steroids.” In addition to corporate women seeking mentors, more women are taking an entrepreneurial path and seeking mentors to help guide them. Many of these women hire coaches to serve as mentors and guide them in decision making, goal setting and achievement.
- Redefining Success: The influence of the “life coaching” profession—particularly by founder Thomas Leonard—has made both mentors and mentees more aware of the personal growth aspects of mentoring. Success is less often seen as “at any cost” and more about success within a sustainable lifestyle and vision for life. This is especially true of entrepreneurs who are pioneering their own work environments.
Says Amy Beilharz, former corporate executive turned serial entrepreneur and business coach, “Twenty years ago, coaching entrepreneurs was all about nuts and bolts—creating business plans, projections, managing cash flow. Today, we still look at those factors; however, we also ask what type of business you'll enjoy operating, where you want to be in 10 years, and what you enjoy. Our business and financial efforts are aimed at fulfilling our deepest yearnings, not just our bank accounts.” This focus on fulfillment can be seen in both coaching and more informal mentoring.
- A Mentor for Every Need: There is greater specialization within mentoring and coaching. While the overall career mentor has her place, many women, particularly entrepreneurs are seeking mentors and coaches for very specific needs—and often more than one mentor at a time. One woman may have a mentor for setting business goals, another to help her shift her relationship with money, another to help her with work/life balance, as well as parenting mentors and health mentors on the personal side!
- The Rise of Reverse Mentoring: Nowadays, more junior mentors can mentor senior managers when the mentor possess specific skills lacked by the senior. This is especially common with technological skills. Consider youthful mentors for certain of your needs.
- When it Comes to Promotions, Sponsorship is Key: More mentoring has not necessarily resulted in bigger promotions for women. In this Harvard Business Review Interview, Herminia Ibarra says that being sponsored by mentors high up in an organization—getting “fought for, protected” and sponsored for promotions by the most senior people—is the key to promotions at the highest levels.
Consider These Ways to Interact with Mentors
- Mentoring can be especially helpful when changing companies or jobs. Bonnie Marcus, author of The Politics of Promotion, says, “The mentor/mentee relationship is especially valuable for people coming into a new company or taking on a new position in another department. The mentor can offer advice on how to best navigate in the new work environment and give information about the people and politics. They can also help mentees by introducing them to potential allies and champions as well as give their informed opinion on how to promote their ideas and create visibility for themselves.”
- While mentors can be helpful with career advice, don't stop there. Observing your mentors can be as valuable as asking questions! Marcus says, “Women especially benefit from observing the behavior and communication style of women leaders in their organization. Their observations of role models help them to understand what it takes as a woman to get ahead in their work environment. Senior leaders can provide many lessons on leadership, executive presence, and management.”
- As a recent speaker at a mentoring event for women (in a Fortune 500 financial company), Scheinzeit noted the role of storytelling. “Participants loved hearing the personal narratives of Senior Executives. It created an instant bond.” Ask your mentors to tell their stories!
Angela Fletcher, a consultant who has developed leadership programs for Fortune 500 companies, including Coca-Cola Enterprises and Delta Air Lines and who has served as an internal and external mentor for 20+ years, suggest these tips for choosing and leveraging mentors:
- Form a Mentoring Board. For most of us, one mentor won't meet all of our needs. Mobilize a group of individuals who have knowledge, skills and experiences that can aid you with achieving your goals.
- Make diversity a priority. You limit your opportunity for growth if you are surrounded by people that look, think and act like you. Ensure that members of your mentoring board are diverse in every sense.
- Plan to be maximize your learning and growth. Set goals with each mentor. Prepare an agenda for each meeting/call. And communicate your progress to your mentors regularly.
- Be intentional about reciprocating. Modern mentor-mentee relationships are a two-way street. Look for ways to add value to your mentors' efforts.
- Express appreciation. Don't take your mentors for granted. Buy lunch when you meet. Send a thank you note occasionally. Find ways to let them know their gifts of time and wisdom are not taken for granted.
Whether you work for a Fortune 500, small start-up or your own one-woman band, you can get started on mentoring today. In addition to looking into formal mentoring programs, you can create your own. Think of the areas you'd like support and advice. List several people in your organization, business network or social circles who can provide mentoring in any of these areas. If you can't think of anyone, list friends or colleagues who may be able to suggest someone.
How to invite someone to mentor you? It doesn't need to be formal. Teri Scheinzeit suggests inviting an experienced professional you admire for lunch and pick up the tab. “Tell them why you respect them. For example, ‘You are so focused… you have a balanced life… you rose to the top quickly.' Ask if they would mind answering a few questions about your career. If you are struggling with a specific issue, ask for their advice. For example, asking for a raise… a conflict with a co-worker… hiring a new employee. The advisor will enjoy the acknowledgement and respect. Guess what else happens? This person is now invested in your growth. They stay interested in you and your career.”
And don't forget. It goes two ways. Just as you can find a mentor, you can be a mentor to someone who can benefit from your experience and brilliance.
Lisa Tener is an author, trainer and four-time Stevie Award winner, including the Silver Stevie Award for Mentor/Coach of the Year 2014. Lisa serves on faculty at Harvard Medical School’s CME publishing course and blogs on topics like how to choose a literary agent.You can also find her posts on the Huffington Post and follow Lisa on twitter.
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