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Posted by on Mar 31, 2015

Support Your Mentors

Support Your Mentors

White business man and woman talking in the office -seriousThroughout my career, I have had the good fortune of having several excellent mentors. They naturally took me under their wing, took an interest in my development and gave their time, energy, and expertise without my even having to ask. I am so thankful for them, knowing that my career most certainly would have taken a different direction had it not been for their genuine interest and commitment to our relationship. This organic mentoring, though, doesn’t happen for everyone and organizations cannot rely on this more natural process as a way to engage and develop their people.

We know that mentorship can be an excellent tool for employees to receive guidance and perspective as they move through their career. When done well, both parties gain value. The mentor contributes their expertise, the mentee can develop a trusted confidante, and they both learn from one another’s experience. While there is usually no shortage of interested mentees, organizations can struggle to maintain a robust pool of mentors. Let’s talk about the impact this can have and some ideas to turn this around.

Address Mentor Burnout

Professionals who volunteer to serve as mentors often have a desire to create a positive impact in someone else’s life, a desire to give, and believe in the value of what they have to offer. Yet when mentors are in short supply, programs often rely on the same volunteers to take on several mentees at a time with each new program cycle. Mentors can feel overloaded or burned out. What starts off as an energizing way for the mentor to give back can turn into an energy draining commitment. So what happens?

The answer to that might lie in the way the mentors give. When the pool of mentors is smaller than the pool of mentees, the matching process isn’t always able to meet the specific needs or hopes of the mentee, and may make matches that require a mentor to go out of their realm of expertise, comfort, or preferred way of giving to accommodate the mentee. For example, some mentors might be connectors, best able (and energized) to give by helping their mentee to grow their network, introducing them to a variety of other professionals. Some mentors might prefer to help a mentee improve their writing or communications style. Yet when they are matched with multiple mentees that require they give in ways that don’t energize them, burnout can easily take hold.

Save the perpetual givers from themselves

So check in. Ask current and prospective mentors to describe the way they can best give to a mentee, and actually try to match for that. What are the mentor’s favorite ways to engage? What ways tap their strengths and preferences, not only their experience? Adam Grant writes, “Givers don’t burn out because they devote too much time and energy to giving. They burn out when they’re working with people in need but are unable to help effectively.”

Seek other potential mentors

To help meet the demand for mentors, consider individuals in your organization that are flying under the radar. Who has untapped institutional knowledge? Who might benefit from being personally invited to participate? For many, the decision to participate, or not, rests in the value they feel they have to offer. We habituate to our roles and skills, and easily become blind to the specialized insight we truly have. Take the time to spot a prospective mentor’s strengths and affirm to them that they have a unique perspective, skillset, talent, or knowledge that would be valuable to share.

A mentoring program requires planning, organization, and commitment, not only participants. Yet taking a look at the best ways to engage your current mentors, and enroll additional ones, helps to ensure that the relationships at the heart of the program begin with the energy and interest needed for success.

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