No one ever forgets that one person who offered them a great piece of career advice or gave them the confidence boost they needed to make their dream job a reality. Whether official or unofficial, mentoring relationships have helped many people get ahead at work, even the world's most famous entrepreneurs.
The best leaders give their time and experience to help the leaders of the future through mentoring. But how does it work and why would busy executives want to give up their time to do it? Research suggests both mentors themselves and their mentees can benefit from the process, so it's something every business owner should consider.
What Is Mentoring?
In a business context, mentoring is usually a more experienced person offering informal guidance and support to someone less experienced working in the same field. This can be someone junior to you within your own company, or an entrepreneur starting out on their own. Even experienced business people can benefit from having their own mentor, simply because they can provide inspiration and a different perspective. The idea is that the mentor imparts their knowledge and hard-learned lessons to help someone else's career or fledgling company. The best mentoring relationships happen when the two parties involved get along on a personal level, and where there is mutual respect.
What Is Mentoring Not?
It's not a bossy senior executive telling their subordinate what to do. Neither is it a junior executive expecting their mentor will secure them a promotion or give away hard-won industry contacts. It is also not something you can do without putting any time or effort in. A regular time commitment is needed from both parties: a mentoring relationship won't work if neither of you makes time to meet.
What Are the Benefits?
The mentoring relationship is a two-way street. Mentors become better leaders and communicators as they develop their skills in coaching, listening and giving feedback. There is also an altruistic element to mentoring which could bring personal and job satisfaction as the mentor watches their mentee flourish and reach career milestones.
The best mentoring relationships happen when the two parties involved get along on a personal level, and where there is mutual respect.
Mentees gain valuable advice, better problem-solving and leadership skills, and the chance to grow their professional network. Their mentor can act as a sounding board for any workplace or even personal concerns, and can advise on long-term career decisions. They can help them understand and navigate the office politics in their organization, work out what career path they want to follow through the company and when to take on leadership opportunities.
Mentoring for Women
Mentoring is particularly important for women, especially in male-dominated fields such as finance and technology. Women mentoring other women can help tackle the feeling of imposter syndrome, build confidence and ambition, and break down some of the gender-based barriers to advancement in the workplace. In this way, mentoring matters because it can create a sustainable pipeline of female leadership which benefits organizations as well as wider society.
Mentoring for Startups
Mentors can offer help to entrepreneurs outside their own workplace, or even in other industries or sectors. Their advice is vital because so many small businesses fail in the early stages—the guidance of a seasoned mentor could be the difference between success and failure. Startup incubators and innovation labs often encourage mentoring and support for this reason: it's really valuable for young entrepreneurs to have a trusted person who can give a second opinion when they're making crucial business decisions.
From the point of view of your organization, the importance of mentorship at work is that it sends a message to your workforce that the company has time for them, will listen to their concerns and give them personal attention. You're showing them you care about their career progression, and will help them reach their goals. This can help result in more engaged and productive employees and better staff retention rates. Where mentoring identifies any weaknesses or skills gaps hindering career progression, these can be addressed with training and development.
So, in a nutshell, becoming a mentor comes with the feel-good factor of giving something back, with the added bonus of making you a better leader. On the other side of the fence, getting a good mentor could shape the future success of your small business. It's a win-win situation, and that's why mentoring matters.
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