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The Mentor Maze – 4 Paths to Explore when selecting a Mentor

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Mentoring is a valuable resource in overcoming inexperience that young leaders can access within their organisations. As a form of coaching or training it can help guide and structure a new manager’s route through self-doubt, organisational culture and help avoid the rocky shoals of internal disputes.  When navigating through the mentor maze care needs to be taken when considering the right guide.

A mentor should act as your trusted counsellor or guide, so ask yourself:

  • A counsellor on what topic? 
  • A guide to what end? 

Many ambitious young managers are desperate to attract the most senior executive they can as their mentor.  Viewing the contact as a step upwards on the corporate social networking ladder.  This can work for some! For the more strategically minded, consider instead the leadership skills and traits you desire. Identify these, and then seek out those best eqyuipped to assist you through mentoring.  This may require more than one mentor, but a wider spectrum of individuals who can help may be more beneficial to you in the long term.  After all the objective of using a mentor is to seek guidance from the right person at the right time for the right task.

Consider taking your time and reflect on your immediate needs – is it to improve your onward career progression, to build networks, acquire technical skills or simply to gain a foothold in the organisation you have just joined.  There are many ways that a mentor could be invaluable to you and the organisation.   Evaluate your development needs and start to identify a suitable mentor. 

The following four types of mentor can assist your selection of a suitable mentor:  

The Power Mentor

The most attractive mentor for the young ambitious manager with the ambition, desire and ability to accept power and risk, and who is fixed on fast tracking their career within the organisation.

‘Power’ is often defined as ‘the ability to get someone to do something that they do not particularly want to do’. Power and how it is applied can be both a positive or negative aspect within organisational relationships, culture, structures and interactions external to the organisation.  However well or badly it is embodied in individuals, it is a central concept within human psychology and workplace interactions. 

This desire to influence the behaviours of others or to hold a dominant position over others can be an attractive concept to those new to leadership, and a well chosen mentor can enhance learning through guidance and insights into office politics, job advancement and successful networking.  In addition, a Power Mentor can help develop specific traits the new leader will require in their futures – such as good communication skills, emotional intelligence, patience and the motivation to see others do well.

The Guru

The Guru Mentor is relationship oriented and wants the best for their mentee as an individual.  Their value within organisations is that they are happy to act as an intellectual guide for new managers in areas of immediate self-concern to the mentee.  Their attention is less on driving higher performance, and more on assuring well-being, confidence and contentment in the organisational role the mentee occupies. 

It is often said that ‘knowledge is power’, and the Guru mentor’s speciality is in the transfer of knowledge, wisdom and hopefully understanding across to their mentee.  They can play an important role in the mindset development of new managers and executives.  During their initial months acting as an Oracle whenever the mentee has doubts in their ability or questions, they are reluctant to ask of their line managers or staff.

Gurus provide a safe space to express doubts, fears and uncertainties, to discuss personal development needs, or to receive anecdotal advice from their own experience.

The Cultural Attache

The Cultural Attache knows ody and has an information network that reaches out across the various silos and power groups within the organisation.  Less a gossip and more an intelligence officer they have their ear tuned to the frequency of the organisation and understand its mood swings and current state of health.

For the new manager struggling to establish a visible presence in an organisation they can be a trusted guide, who can point out the strategic paths to achieve successful outcomes.  With a highly developed network of their own they can provide critical feedback in areas such as interpersonal relationships and how their mentee is perceived by other leaders, and through mentoring assist in shaping their communication styles or how to flex their leadership skills when dealing with other managers.   

Working closely with a Cultural Attache helps a mentee to understand how the organisation works and operates around them quicker and can be a boon to a new leader recruited externally.   Their core advantage is in the sharing of knowledge that helps the mentee avoid mistakes and contributes to professional growth and adaptation to a higher tier of management.   For the shy networker or new arrival, it can also help raise visibility or open the door to new contacts who can provide professional assistance, support and advice.

The Clockmaker

Moving beyond the human management skills required in leadership, the Clockmaker Mentor can be a valuable source of information and support when a new manager seeks to understand the bigger picture of how the organisational machine works, its systems and how to apply increased leverage to achieve outcomes or solve perceived inefficiencies.

in addition to expertise in their field, Clockmakers understand the organisation’s production systems in detail, as well as the hidden cultural and intangible risks submerged below the smooth operational facade.  Clockmakers can be invaluable in situational mentoring, where they help guide a new manager through the delivery of technical projects and how to manage cross-disciplinary team silos.  Importantly, they are often willing to open and sharing their network of key technical and data knowledge workers.

Navigating the Mentor Maze

If you are stepping up into a leadership position, sourcing the right mentor can be an invaluable investment in time and self-development.  We all need mentors who have our best interests at heart, who are willing to let us tap into their wisdom of experience and who allow us to minimise the mistakes we could make in our first leadership endeavours.

The qualities to look for in a mentor are t5hose that best define your immediate needs as a developing leader.  There is often the expectation that one mentor can meet all your needs, they can certainly act as a pivot and friend through which you can express your needs and concerns, but it can be just as useful to develop a portfolio of mentors who fulfil different needs

The mentors you choose should also possess a passion for coaching or teaching.  All great mentors find ways to teach and inspire you, without criticism, and are always generous in their support. When seeking a mentor who can help your self-development look for those with the qualities you desire and who also possess the leadership traits that you most admire.

Take home message

Be honest with your mentor and what you hope to achieve with them.   Your mentor is there to help you overcome inexperience, doubts and sonewalls. They truly have your best interests at heart.  Be 100% open to feedback and the advice you are given.

If you do not feel comfortable in opening up and express your fears and doubts, or hold back information then you may have selected the wrong mentor and it may be better to change now rather than wait until the relationship goes cold. 

Inhibitions have no place in a mentor discussion, if they are a good mentor, they are not judging you and will have your best interests at heart.

This article is based on a piece of work considering the business value in refreshing a corporate approach to mentoring through the introduction of a wider variety of mentoring styles, individuals and leadership skills.

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career development, mentoring, professional development, training

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