We are the sum of our influences, some of whom can leave a profound mark on us.
Edison had Ford. Gates had Buffet. Zuckerberg had Jobs. You probably have someone in mind too right now.
The workplace has changed drastically in the last few decades but something that has stood the test of time is the concept of mentorship.
We innovate and reach new heights by standing on the shoulders of giants until we become giants for others. It is this mentorship loop that fosters progress and ensures that organisations can keep producing top leaders.
Recent studies have revealed that over 71% of Fortune 500 companies offer mentoring programs. But simply having one doesn’t automatically guarantee organisational success. Effective mentorship requires effort and specific skills and sensibilities from both the mentor and the mentee.
To better understand why mentorship matters and the different forms it can take, we sought insights from two industry leaders: Hannah Udina, Product Manager at Optus, and Richard Williams, VP of Engineering at Plutora.
What are the positive benefits of mentoring?
There are numerous benefits to mentoring both at the individual and the organisational level.
A survey of 170 professionals found that employees who were part of a mentoring relationship were significantly more engaged than employees who were not. Mentored employees:
- Felt more positively about their organisation as a place to work for
- Felt more positively about their organisation’s senior leadership
- Believed their organisation provided opportunities for career growth
- Felt informed about the future course of their organisation
For Udina, the mentorship she found at Optus has been essential to her personal growth. “I think about how far I’ve come in the last two years and I attest my growth to the people who have taught me, listened to me, helped me when I needed it and most importantly, pushed me.”
Here are some ways that mentorship can transform the individual:
- It provides a great opportunity for people to learn from seeing and doing – Mentorship allows people to learn both soft and hard skills such as effective communication, people management and practical strategies.
- It pushes people out of their comfort zone – For mentees, a leap into the unknown isn’t so scary when their mentors have leapt before them.
- It teaches people how to handle feedback – Mentorship gives people the chance to master the tricky business of giving and receiving constructive criticism.
In Udina’s experience, seeking out constructive criticism is a way of taking control of your own learning: “Asking for constructive criticism is going to set you up for success. When you get the feedback, make sure you apply the learnings. Find out what works for you and what doesn’t.”
It can be a great source of comfort – More than just a learning environment, mentorship offers friendship and a chance for people to feel heard and understood.
Here are some ways that mentorship can transform the organisation:
- It helps develop future leaders – Mentorship allows current leaders to pass on their wisdom and experience to prospective leaders.
- It creates higher levels of job satisfaction and engagement – When people are personally guided and supported, it fosters higher morale and productivity.
- It improves job retention – Having access to mentors is a growth opportunity that can make employees more likely to stay.
What makes a good mentor?
A good mentor is more than just someone who is successful or experienced. There is a whole range of traits and skills involved including a genuine desire to help others, the ability to actively listen and the openness to share one’s knowledge and past failures.
When you’re in a position of influence based on your success and experience, there’s also the tendency for others to emulate you. But as finance expert and media personality, Suze Orman, once said, “The key to being a good mentor is to help people become more of who they already are — not to make them more like you”.
Making the mentoring relationship work
A successful mentoring relationship is a two-way street where both parties are open to learning from each other.
It also requires effort, commitment and open communication about what you’re hoping to get out of the experience, as Udina once learned the hard way meeting a potential mentor unprepared: “The outcome of that interaction was him telling me I wasted an hour of his time because I didn’t know what I wanted out of him.”
Her advice on seeking a formal mentoring relationship — everyone is busy so don’t waste anyone’s time. Research who you are meeting and come prepared with questions. Be inquisitive.
Mentoring doesn’t always have to be so formal either.
Udina says, “Most people think of mentorship to be a structured, formal arrangement. This is true in some cases, but for most parts, the best type of mentorship comes from the people around you who know you better than you know yourself. Seek mentorship in different forms.”
This attitude was planted by her mentor back in first-year law when her tutor advised her — “learn to leverage the people around you”.
Udina recommends having three types of mentors. “The first is someone who you interact with every day. The second is a leader in your organisation and the third is someone external to your organisation whose career you aspire to.”
The role of mentoring in leadership
Mentoring is an important way of developing leadership skills, both in oneself and in others.
For Williams at Plutora, a successful leader is multi-faceted: “They need to be good listeners, make good judgement calls and not be afraid to make the hard shots”.
When it comes to growing morale and productivity, William says, “Empowering the team and trusting those you hired to deliver is so important”.
For organisations like Plutora, there has been a particular focus on leadership mentoring to ensure that a vacuum is never left in its leadership team.
But mentorship is more than just about passing the baton from one leader to another. It can help create a more diverse and inclusive workplace where future leadership roles are filled by those who are significantly under-represented today.
The power of a mentor who has managed to break the status quo to be in a leadership role cannot be overstated.
Are you ready to be a mentor at a leading organisation? Explore job opportunities at some of Australia’s top companies: