Mentoring: The Game Changer

I’m no Oprah, but we do have something in common.

Sheryl Sandberg. Sally Ride. Mother Teresa. Indra Nooyi. Chita Rivera. Quincy Jones. General Colin Powell. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Believe it or not, I have something in common with them, too. We all attribute our achievements to a mentor or mentors.

Throughout my life, prior to making major decisions, I sought the counsel of those trusted and respected in both my personal and professional development. Although, the final decision-making remained solely mine, there was a certain level of confidence gained by the guidance, discussions or sharing.

My first mentors were my mother and the “Dean,” a church member and former university dean.

I recall my mother as a true nurturer; she nurtured the whole child—the self-esteem, spirit, dreams, education, soul, humanity and health. Because of her, innumerable opportunities for me to connect and grow beyond my community existed. Museum visits, art lessons and oratorical contests, multiple global pen pals and the engagement of members of the church community aided in my development.

The “Dean” provided guidance, encouragement and instruction for oratorical contests. Lessons on listening, participating and practicing from my “village” proved to be my game changer, encouraged me to live my dreams and to enable others to do the same.

From Mentee to Mentor

I’m no Maya Angelou, but we, too, have something elemental in common.

Connie Chung. Ray Charles. Steve Jobs. Christian Dior. Warren Buffet. Ralph Waldo Emerson. Yes, I share a passion for mentoring with these noteworthy people, too.

While developing corporate mentoring programs for employees, suppliers and businesses, understanding the goals and aspirations of the people in the program proved key to the programs’ successes for the company and for the participants. Our work included one-on-one counseling, executive mentors, educational opportunities, succession planning and new product development.

A mentor provides advice, commitment and knowledge and is open to sharing best practices as well as challenges. Mentoring, often likened to sponsoring, coaching or advising, in truth, is inclusive of all three of these. It is more than a passion; it is my life’s purpose. Lessons learned from those who mentored me form the foundation of my efforts. After joining the workforce, senior executives from different business functions served as my mentors, and subsequently added more depth to my mentoring skills. The key to successful mentorship is the willingness and eagerness of the mentor to listen and understand the mentees’ ideas and goals. Equally important is the commitment to make a strategic change and a positive impact.

Mentoring can be both informal and formal.

Informal mentoring is generally driven by the mentee. Goals and objectives are discussed and action plans may be developed and reviewed. Many of my informal mentoring efforts also included skills assessments, strategic networking meetings and events, educational opportunities and international business missions. Mentees gained new opportunities and expanded business scale and scope.

Formal mentoring is a more structured relationship that is administered by a third-party, requires participation for a fixed period of time and can have a formal reporting process. The mentee is assigned or selects a mentor and commits to a one- to two-year program of classes and sometimes a group project. Many participants found that formal tools and experiences led to career enhancements and future opportunities within the organization.

Key Takeaways From Mentoring

• A mentor has passion for providing assistance, advice and support. They can be found at work, school, family, church and in the community. It can be someone who you personally know or admire or someone who inspires you.

• Mentoring relationships succeed when the mentor and mentee take time to get to know each other and establish a relationship.

• Consider a mentor if you want someone who will focus on you, discuss your goals and objectives and be available to provide assistance, feedback, best practices, challenges and access to an expanded network.

• There are two main types of mentoring: informal and formal.

As a mentor and a mentee, keeping an open mind. Listening, being willing to take a risk and being open to change are the pathways to new opportunities and to changing the game.

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