By Shannah Hayley, FSMPS, CPSM, Director of Marketing and Community Engagement – City of Plano, Texas
There’s little doubt that the influence of a mentor can be extremely beneficial but all too often, priority is placed on one-on-one mentor relationships in the early and mid-career stages. While helpful, mentoring doesn’t have to be the result of a formal program. Leaders should always look for ways to grow and multiply their influence. Formal and informal mentoring relationships can provide the foundation and process for learning and growth throughout your career lifecycle.
Let’s start with this basic truth – you need a mentor. Why? A mentor can help you:
- Define and reach long-term goals. A mentor helps you define your career path. They also help you stay focused on your path when things get tough and you become distracted by day-to-day stuff.
- Build accountability. There’s nothing like knowing you have an upcoming meeting with your mentor to make sure you finish the tasks you discussed in your last meeting.
- Work better. A good mentor can help you create a clearer view of your idealized future, allowing you to work more efficiently with greater focus. This, in turn, helps you feel more confident in your work, leading to better work performance and more success.
But mentoring doesn’t have to happen in a formal “Mentor/Protégé Program” – the type hosted by a professional organization or an organization.
You can break the model.
There are lots of non-traditional mentor-protégé formulas that work.
- Sponsor – opens doors can open doors within your company, in other companies, or onto a board.
- Connector –helps you expand your network of contacts and business acquaintances.
- Role model – someone whose work you admire. Spend time with them, observing and learning to gain valuable insight into what you might want to do to get closer to your personal goals.
- Professional friend – we all need someone who is friendly, warm and great at listening. They bring perspective and remind you each day is a fresh start.
- Champion and ally – serves as a strong champion of your positive characteristics and an ally during bumpy spots in your career.
- Thinking partner – helps you look at situations in new ways. He or she can ask hard questions and help you solve problems.
- Sounding board –trusted colleague who can be trusted to listen and give advice for all types of issues and situations, from difficult work relationships to problem solving on projects.
- Challenger –gives you a different perspective, especially when they think you’re doing something wrong or if you need to rethink something.
- Performance coach – doesn’t solve your problems, but helps you by asking questions which guide you to solving your own problems. They also work to equip you with skills you’ll need for future success.
What to do when you meet: Ideas for structure, rhythm and content.
Many people panic when asked to be a mentor and/or feel lost when they are the protégé. Keep in mind mentoring is about relationship, not structure.
Mentoring relationships often fail because of unclear expectations. Start your mentoring relationship with a candid conversation of what each of you want to get out of the relationship, learning style and time availability.
I have several mentoring relationships. My longest-lasting is highly structured with a calendar of topics and a set meeting length. Another focused on as-needed office meetings for discussion and feedback. Yet another happens through casual conversation over breakfast.
Still need help?
- First, create clarity. Outline goals for the relationship. Be specific.
- Second, develop a structure and rhythm that works for your pairing. When can you meet? Where and for how long? What will you do?
- Need some ideas? Try these: You can role play, job shadow, read and discuss a book, network together, create a vision statement…and much more.
Break the model a little more.
Don’t get stuck in the traditional approach to mentoring. Consider redefining what you can give and what you can ask for in a mentor relationship.
- Mentoring can be something you pay for. Career coaches can be incredibly helpful, as they help you stay hyper-focused on your goals.
- Mentors can be any age, as can protégés. That’s right, long-time professionals, don’t be afraid of asking someone younger to be your mentor.
- Mentoring isn’t always a pairing Try a mastermind group or a mentorship board of advisors. My longest-lasting mentoring relationship is a peer group functioning as a mastermind group.
So how do you begin?
Start by agreeing to be a mentor and make sure you are also a protégé. That’s right: Everyone can mentor and everyone needs a mentor. No matter how senior your role, a mentor gives you the benefit of perspective and experience.
Second, work to become a multiplier. Be a leader who encourages others to learn and grow. This means you need to be willing to lead with an open hand, so others can fail and grow through the experience.
Remember, the long-term impact of serving as a mentor and of being mentored can be life and career changing. Try a new mentorship model and reap the benefits long-term.
Shannah’s pursuit of living life to the fullest has taken her all over the world with various communications-focused jobs, from teaching in Kenya to consulting in the United Kingdom. With a Master of Arts in Communications from Missouri State University, she leveraged her training in communications into a career focused on marketing, social engagement and business development. After 20 years in non-profit and professional services marketing, she transitioned into the public sector.
Shannah now serves as the Director of Marketing and Community Engagement for the City of Plano, the 70th largest city in the United States. Her responsibilities include process management, strategic planning, communications and supervision of all aspects of the City’s marketing and community engagement efforts. Shannah frequently leads training courses on core communication skills for internal staff development, as well as local and national organizations. In keeping with her commitment to professional excellence, Shannah earned her Certified Professional Services Marketer (CPSM) designation in 2006. She was admitted to the SMPS College of Fellows in 2013.
You can connect with Shannah via Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @shannahhayley; LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/shannahallowayhayley.