Over the past several months, I’ve participated in two mentoring programs simultaneously – as the mentor and as the mentee. This unusual juxtaposition gave me the opportunity to learn about mentoring from both sides of the relationship. I want to share three insights, which I think of as the ABCs of mentoring: Accountability, Backstory and Confidentiality.
1. Accountability – When a mentor and a mentee establish a structure of regular meetings, agree upon goals at the outset, and identify the action steps they will take to reach their goals, it’s a beneficial mentor program.
As a mentor in the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association (HBA) mentoring program, I was paired with an experienced HBA mentor. We received formal training with the 2013 cohort of mentors in the Metro Chapter, and participated in a robust orientation workshop with our mentees. Cynthia, a marketing and operations guru, and I were co-mentors for three women in the healthcare field – Belinda, a marketing director; JulieAnn, a clinical nurse who manages global investigational drug studies being conducted in oncology research centers; and Karen, a human resources and organizational design manager.
The five of us agreed to meet biweekly in person from March through October. In spite of heavy business travel schedules and demanding workloads, we kept to our agreement – and grew to know and appreciate each other in the process. We celebrated our progress with a special dinner and also attended the program’s closing ceremonies together. Even though our cohort has completed its work, we remain fast friends and champions of each other.
Tip: Set a start and end date for your mentoring arrangement and agree to regular check-ins along the way. The notion of a mentoring relationship that lasts a lifetime is unrealistic and daunting. Decide what you can learn from each other and seek to develop a relationship around these aims.
2. Backstory – When mentors ask questions of mentees – when they seek first to understand – the mentees are able to travel a path of self-discovery that is far more satisfying than being delivered a list of do’s and don’ts. The more personal information a mentor reveals, the more genuine everyone will allow themselves to be. This builds a culture of trust and connection that makes the mentor-mentee experience rich and rewarding.
As a mentee in Merck’s Supplier Diversity mentorship program, my mentors, Cyndi and Saunjah, provided a rapid immersion experience, leading me through an orientation, introducing me to key executives, and requiring me to complete a comprehensive analysis of my business and its relationship to Merck. My mentors taught me how seriously Merck takes its supply chain, and how important relationships are to the pharma giant. Saunjah and Cyndi challenged me to bring my best people and our best thinking to every assignment we win with Merck.
I took up their challenge, and as a result, have brought back the human resources training I received at Merck-sponsored workshops and the leadership lessons I gained while at the premier executive education program for women business owners offered by the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth in conjunction with the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC). Being a Merck mentee helped me identify where my company could grow to add more value to Merck leaders – and to all our clients.
Tip: Once you know the backstory – the why behind the what – reframe the conversation so it is focused on the listener. If your story doesn’t include the listener, he or she can’t hear you.
3. Confidentiality – A mentoring relationship is one of the most vulnerable – and valuable – in professional life. With agreement about accountability and a passion for understanding the backstory, you will create an environment of inclusion and trust. For mentoring to be meaningful, both mentor and mentee must honor the confidentiality of everything they share. This applies equally to information and emotions.
In our HBA mentoring group, the five of us constructed an impenetrable “cone of silence” that each of us continues to honor. Because of our positive experience in a mentoring group, we have built a tiny but strong network of supporters that we can call upon for advice without preamble. And we can count on candid feedback and constant encouragement. What other business relationship could have yielded so much in six short months?
As a Merck mentee, I have been entrusted with information, insights and opinions that have helped me understand the nuances of this important client and enhance our service to the company. And my mentors have identified areas of improvement for my growing agency and have cheered me on as I’ve addressed each one. It is a great honor to have been admitted into the supplier diversity mentorship program that has given me access to business tools and training that would otherwise be out of reach.
Tip: The secret sauce of great mentoring relationships is trust. For both mentor and mentee, the ability to hold confidential information as sacred enhances trust and firmly establishes your reputation for integrity.
For me, these are the ABCs of a successful mentoring relationship. What are yours? Share your story with us on VTLO’s LinkedIn page.