Photo by Deborah M. McCormick

While there is a time and a place to enjoy the solitude of walking alone, I would’t recommend walking your career path alone.  In case you missed it, January was National Mentoring Month.  While the month-long campaign is designed to promote youth mentoring programs, it left me thinking about my experiences with mentoring in the workplace.

Whether you are giving or receiving, mentoring is a gift.  In addition to having some extraordinary mentors guide me along my own path, I have had the privilege of being a mentor.  I have also had the opportunity to facilitate a mentoring program in the workplace and to see many others benefit from the gift of mentorship.

A mentor is a role model who shares knowledge and experiences, offers support, guidance, advice and perspective.  Mentorship can be an invaluable and powerful source of information and inspiration.  Mentors help employees adjust to a new organization or a new role, guide them as they tackle the growing pains associated with career advancement, and offer certainty through the uncertainty of organizational change.  Employees who have a mentor helping them take an objective look at their strengths and weaknesses are much more likely to build and develop the professional skills that they need to advance in their roles.  Mentors offer tools and abilities that employees need to tackle problems and challenges more effectively.

Mentoring relationships can be formal or informal, deliberately sought out or unexpected finds.  Similarly, business mentoring programs take on all shapes and sizes.  There is no right or wrong, there is just what works for your organization.  We encouraged our mentors and mentees to make the relationship as formal or informal as they wished.  But, we did offer guidelines and tools for developing a contract, agreement and objectives.  We suggested that the pair agree to work together for a specific period of time and then evaluate the continuing relationship.  Sometimes a relationship runs its course, sometimes it’s just not the right match to begin with.  We found that some employees had mentors who spanned their tenure, others had several different mentors at different stages of their career.  Some had both.

We didn’t force anyone to participate.  And we encouraged everyone to be open and honest about whether the relationship was working.  If it wasn’t, we helped to re-match.  But, we also always encouraged our employees to develop relationships outside of the program.  Many benefited from having multiple relationships – including both within and outside of the program and within and outside of the organization.  While some employees need help facilitating a match, others prefer to do so on their own.  While some will use the structure and guidelines to their advantage, others prefer more informal relationships.  A program that includes flexibility and diversity can help to promote a culture of developing others – a pay it forward culture if you will.

I will always be thankful to the mentors who helped me walk my professional path.  With them by my side,  I never had to walk alone.  I am still benefiting from the experience and guidance – and their gift to me.  If you have had a mentor, who supported your growth and development and walked along side of you, you likely know what I mean.

If Pfautz Consulting Group, LLC can help you as you promote mentorship in your organization, please contact us.

Submitted by Deborah M. McCormick