As a young consultant I really thought I had it all together. I was getting great ratings, great raises, and wonderful accolades from clients. Because I (in my own mind) thought I was such hot stuff, I was not active in seeking out advice from more experienced colleagues. After all, what could they teach me?
As I matured from an inexperienced hot-shot to an experienced manager, I developed a much stronger appreciation for the wisdom my more experienced colleagues could impart. This appreciation didn’t happen naturally; I had to get my butt chewed
off a bunch of times to realize that a wiser and more experienced colleague could help me get through the tough times and learn from my mistakes. I also needed a wiser colleague to hold a mirror up to my face to help me see my weaknesses. I needed (and still need) a mentor to help me be more effective as a leader.
Whether for personal or professional reasons, having a mentor to turn to for advice and counsel is a very effective means of transforming knowledge into wisdom. Before I go any further, let’s get a definition of wisdom in place: Knowledge + Experience = Wisdom
In a mentoring relationship, a mentoree, or person being mentored, typically brings a lot of knowledge to the table. The mentoree has learned the fundamentals of how to do his or her job and can probably do the basics well. What the mentor, or the person doing the mentoring, provides to the mentoree is experience. The mentor provides perspective on what to do when things aren’t optimal or when difficult situations crop up. When the experience from the mentor is transferred to the mentoree, it accelerates the wisdom building
process because the mentoree now doesn’t have to learn solely through his or her own mistakes. The mentoree is able to learn from a combination of his or her own mistakes and the mentor’s advice about what to do or not do.
For mentoring relationships to work well, I’ve found several items to be very important:
The mentor should not have a direct reporting relationship with the mentoree. The mentoree can feel free to speak about issues which may be plaguing him or her without fear of retribution from a boss.
The mentor needs to want to be a mentor. Mentoring is an incredibly important responsibility that is likely over and above any direct responsibilities the leader already has. If the leader doesn’t want to be a
mentor, he or she is going to view the time spent mentoring as a nuisance.
The mentoree needs to want to have a mentor. Forcing someone to have a mentor is like trying to force a toddler to eat peas: the toddler may do it but he or she isn’t going to like it. The mentoree needs to see the
value in the relationship and must have a desire to benefit from the relationship; otherwise the mentor will just go through the motions until his or her plate is clean.