Career Matters

By Lily Whiteman

How to start a mentoring relationship

Bookmark and Share

Amicitia Maloon-Gibson, an executive coach and co-author of the best-selling book “Stepping Stones to Success,” recommends you begin a mentoring relationship with two documents: a worksheet/questionnaire for your mentee and a set of binding agreements between you and your mentee.

The worksheet/questionnaire is intended to help your mentee conduct a rigorous self-assessment of his strengths, weaknesses, short-term goals and long-term goals. The resulting information should help you both identify the focuses of your future coaching sessions, which skills you should help the mentee develop and which obstacles you should help him conquer.

For example, suppose the mentee’s worksheet reveals that he is doggedly aiming for a leadership position but has a fear of public speaking — a skill that is obviously required of effective leaders. Your mentee’s worksheet responses would suggest that you should encourage your mentee to improve his public speaking skills, no matter how intense his fear may be. So after explaining to your mentee the importance of developing his public speaking skills, you might, for example, suggest that he join Toastmasters International, take a class or receive individual coaching on public speaking. After the training, you might want to help identify or arrange opportunities for your mentee to use his improved public speaking skills.

In addition, the worksheet responses may reveal the types of expertise you should offer and the types of support the mentee needs. For example, suppose you are a woman and your mentee is a young woman who is striving to break certain types of glass ceilings. These results suggest that you should share any relevant experiences or observations you may have about breaking similar glass ceilings, and that you should regularly initiate discussions about your mentee’s progress in this area.

The worksheet should also ask mentees to describe their expectations for the mentoring relationship so that you can gauge whether their expectations should be negotiated further.

The binding agreements — or contract — between you and your mentee will help protect your investment of time and energy in your mentee. This document should establish what types of communication you both will use and how often you will communicate. Will you, for example, plan regularly scheduled face-to-face meetings or e-mail conversations, or will the mentee contact you as needed? Whatever mode of communication you choose, both of you should double-check that neither of you is pledging more time than you can realistically spare.

Also, the contract should establish rules of accountability for your mentee. For example, this document should commit the mentee to being coached and showing up on time to your planned meetings or phone calls; cite how much notice the mentee should give if he must cancel a meeting or phone call; and warn the mentee of consequences he can expect for failing to give notice (unless he is involved in an emergency). For example, the contract may state, “If the mentee fails to show up at more than X number of meetings without giving notice, the mentor-mentee relationship will be dissolved.”

In addition, the contract should prepare the mentee for the full range of feedback you will provide. Maloon-Gibson explains, “I use the contract to ensure that each mentee will be open to feedback — good or bad, positive or negative. Some people just want to be pumped up. But my contracts tell mentees that they can expect to hear the truth from me (in a tactful way).’’

She continues: “If I see a problem, I will discuss alternative courses of action with them but I won’t tell them what course of action to take. This is all part of teaching mentees to take ownership of their goals, and empowering mentees to make decisions for themselves.”

Tags: , ,

Serving as a mentor brings benefits

Bookmark and Share

If you become a mentor, you too will benefit will probably be repaid in spades for your efforts. Here’s why:

* You will gain satisfaction from contributing to a worthy professional’s success. Take it from someone who has mentored hundreds of professionals — if not thousands, through individual sessions and seminars — it is exhilarating to help hard-working, smart and persistent professionals succeed, and then to rightfully take part in the resulting celebratory high-fives, back slaps and toasts.

* As most educators say: The more you teach — and mentor — the more you learn yourself. Any type of teaching, including mentoring, helps the teacher or mentor improve his ability to logically explain concepts and insights. And as you feed your ideas to your mentee, you will learn more about the type of responses they generate and how well they can be implemented — i.e., what works and what doesn’t.

* Mentoring may give you opportunities to connect with individuals of other generations and cultures who may have information or skills that would help you refresh or advance your skills. Suppose, for example, that you’re a technologically unsavvy baby boomer mentoring a recent college graduate. You could recruit your mentee to help you get up to speed on social networking sites, such as Facebook and Twitter.

* Your successful mentoring of a worthy professional will increase the quality of the next generation of federal leaders. “And if you have two hands, you should be helping to lift up two people,” Amicita Maloon-Gibson, an executive coach and co-author of the bestselling book, “Stepping Stones to Success,” said in an interview.

* By spreading your knowledge and insights to others, you can ensure that they will be applied long after you retire. You will thereby create an unofficial legacy for your career.

* If you mentor professionals from underrepresented groups — such as members of minority groups, women and veterans — you will help increase the diversity of the federal work force.

The overarching goal of mentors is usually to help mentees reach their full potential. Some ways to get your relationship off to a good start:

* “Work with your mentee to identify his or her short-term and long-term goals and important milestones along the way,” said Farrell Chiles, who mentored several employees as part of the Greater Los Angeles Federal Executive Board’s Associate Leadership Program.

For example, your mentee’s short-term goal might be to acquire a certain type of experience required for acceptance into the Senior Executive Service, and his long-term goal might be to land an SES job. In such a case, an important milestone might be getting certified for the SES by the Office of Personnel Management.

* Set reasonable boundaries for your relationship. “For example, you might want to explain to your mentee from the outset that you are available to help him or her plan the future, discuss alternative solutions to problems, provide advice and guidance through thorny situations, and/or offer your perspective on other challenges,” Chiles said. “But you can’t solve mentees’ problems or make decisions for them.”

So suppose your mentee is composing an e-mail on a sensitive topic. He would probably benefit from your editorial prowess, fresh eyes and experienced perspective. Nevertheless, your mentee shouldn’t expect you to write the e-mail for him or determine whether he should take your suggestions.

* Show a positive, upbeat attitude. “I always try to focus on the promise of the future,” Chiles said. “Obviously, we can’t change the past. Mentees should hopefully learn new lessons and move forward.”

* Never hold back on deserved encouragement and praise. Be honest, but deliver any suggestions or corrections gingerly and gently.

* End every session on a hopeful, inspirational note