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Real-life lessons about value of mentoring EDITORIAL

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I am going to start this month’s discussion with a heartfelt thank you to you for reading my column each month as well as sharing it with others. Your support and enthusiasm are contagious and you inspire me to work harder to identify relevant topics and offer ideas and insights that will be of value for you all.

Last month I spoke about the power of mentoring. Whether you are the mentor or the mentee, there is so much to learn. Some of the lessons exchanged through mentoring are more obvious, such as the passing along of wisdom and guidance gained through years of experience. But some are less anticipated, such as when a mentee engages in reverse mentoring, becoming the advisor instead of the advisee and the more seasoned professional is the one who becomes the beneficiary.

The precise details don’t really matter.

Some mentors are assigned, others are found serendipitously. Some interactions take place regularly, others meet informally on an as-needed basis. Some mentors and mentees share professional connections, others gain or add value from outside the industry. But no matter how the arrangement works, the bottom line is that an important exchange takes place and both parties are the winners as a result. The key is to remain open-minded, putting aside traditional expectations and being willing to explore new opportunities together.

When my column entitled “Memo to Mentors: Prepare to learn as much as you teach” was printed July 2 in NJBIZ, I referenced it on my LinkedIn page. At that time I asked if you have a special story about your own mentoring experiences. I was hoping that you would provide some interesting perspectives that I could draw upon for a future article. As a result I used your real-world reflections to follow up on, and expand, my original comments.

Thank you for taking time to respond to my request!

What I discovered from your replies reinforced and confirmed many of the concepts I had put forth in July’s article. While each of you described your mentoring experiences differently, there was also a good amount of commonality and consistency in every email you sent.

First and foremost, you all agreed that each situation is distinctively shaped by the needs of the mentor and mentee. Even under similar circumstances, the different personalities and philosophies of the participants inherently influences the exchange in a unique way.

At any given time the roles may reverse but the concept remains consistent: Mentoring represents an open and honest discourse between colleagues, each providing the other with key bits of valuable knowledge.

Second, the best mentoring occurs when there is a give-and-take relationship that offers significant benefits for both parties.

Third, the most powerful mentoring situations are not bound by traditional parameters. In fact, the insights offered often extend well beyond the workplace. Along with sound career advice, personal observations and critical life lessons are frequently communicated.

Here is a sample of some of the comments I received.

Cliff Evans, vice president at M&T Bank wrote, “My mentor is a consensus builder, a door opener and a motivator. Being a working mom, she has great sympathy for everyone’s lifestyle. She is an influential businesswoman who I look to for guidance and advice although not in a formal role. She has also been a reference for me when I have transitioned into new positions.”

Tracy Fink, a resiliency consultant and herself a frequent mentor noted, “As the mentoring relationship progresses and trust is built, the two participants can discuss some challenging life situations in addition to work. It’s a gift to be of service to help someone navigate challenges that can impact work if not dealt with effectively. There are many lessons to be reaped from real-life experiences.”

Robin Rotenberg, vice president, corporate communications and chief communications officer at BASF Corp., thoughtfully noted, “I have never had a mentor but I have had some really good bosses who have mentored me through minefields. Now I take every opportunity I get to informally mentor as many people as I can. I also think it is part of our responsibility to others.”

So what were the key nuggets of wisdom we gleaned from this mentoring conversation?

In our modern technology-driven workplace, there is an observable decrease in opportunities for human interaction. We listen to webinars in the privacy of our offices, register for online tutorials and nurture and cultivate relationships remotely by constructing social media communities around us. The result is that we are not as likely to have the chance to exchange ideas with each other in a profoundly personal way. This actually makes mentoring more important now than ever before.

When mentoring or being mentored, the basic framework is founded on a special connection between two people. At any given time the roles may reverse but the concept remains consistent: Mentoring represents an open and honest discourse between colleagues, each providing the other with key bits of valuable knowledge.

I hope this article helped to “close the loop” on the power of mentoring. I also anticipate that hearing a wide range of comments was a benefit for you.

I will be putting forth many exciting new ideas in the months ahead – and I invite you to continue sending your comments to enhance and deepen the dialogue.

Sally Glick is principal of the firm and chief growth strategist at Sobel & Co. LLC and president of the Association for Corporate Growth in New Jersey.

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Write to the Editorial Department at editorial@njbiz.com

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