Hey manager Mommie Dearest–could your mentoring do more harm than good?
I am a fan of mentorships. I like to mentor people. And, if I am trying to develop my employees, I always recommend they pick a mentor besides me, since in theory, I mentor them every day. Mentoring can be an easy way to develop a variety of skills for a variety of reasons.
You may be asking: Why do I suggest employees pick mentors?
Why do employees want mentors? Conversely, why do I choose to mentor employees? Why do I presume that mentoring works or that it is even necessary? Do mentors really serve as a partner in learning, or is it more self-serving?
From the employee’s point of view: I think the main reason an employee wants a mentor is to get promoted. Why? They need an advocate. They need to have as many advocates as humanly possible in order to politic into the role of their dreams. Skills, hard work and drive are huge factors in promotability, but so is corporate politicking. I don’t make the rules. I just report what I have seen over my career. Finding mentors helps check this factor off the list.
From the manager’s point of view: I like to mentor people because it makes me feel good. I really want to help and will continue to mentor. But am I helping them develop their own point of view? Or am I subconsciously brainwashing them to adopt mine? In a way, could I be politicking them to be my own follower/advocate?
That is the Mommie Dearest worst-case scenario. Mommie Dearest had kids to serve her own agenda, not theirs.
So, back to the original question, do mentors do more harm than good? Nah. They aren’t harmful. If done right, they help the learning process. And they are free and simple.
But here are some things to consider before you ask to be mentored or agree to mentor:
1) Employees–You need to be the catalyst of the mentorships. You theoretically want to be developed. You should own it.
2) Mentors–If you are approached to be a mentor, insist the mentee be brutally honest about why they want a mentor. If they want to truly learn, fine. If they want to be promoted that is OK. You may want to guide them in other directions that may be more effective. Which leads to…
3) Mentee–If you want an advocate to help you get promoted (which is fine), I think other “exposure” methods will be more effective. Taking on new projects within and outside of your department are better ways to show acumen, skill, and passion more quickly. Lead a task-force, join the board of a career specific networking group, ask to shadow another department, present at a corporate-wide meeting. Anything that shows initiative and leadership.
Most mentorships, in my opinion, help more with advocacy than learning. But they are easy, accessible and free. If you decide to be a part of a mentor-mentee partnership, just know why you want to do it.
Dawn Burke, VP of Talent Consulting at Kinetix and founder/advisor for Dawn Burke HR, is an HR leader, speaker, and writer specializing in new HR practices, engagement and workplace culture. Her HR/recruiting/leadership career has spanned the last 20 years, with past gigs including a foundational role as VP of People for Birmingham, AL’s award-winning technology company, Daxko (And yes, Kris Dunn and Dawn are making Bham the HR capital of the world! Who knew?). You can also check her out at DawnHBurke.com and a variety of other interesting places. Google her, it’ll keep you posted on what she is up to.
Most importantly: She is addicted to TV, knows most of the lyrics to Hamilton and West Side Story, loves to cry at movies (check out Cinema Paradiso for a cry fest!), thinks wine, a wheel of Brie and Milk Duds make a well-balanced dinner, and sings in her car daily. Her husband and cat are the Yin to her Yang.