Mentoring Relationships

Many leaders create mentoring relationships. A mentor is a senior employee who sponsors and supports a less experienced employee (a protégé). Successful mentors are good teachers. They can present ideas clearly, listen well and empathize with the problems of their protégés. Mentoring relationships have been described in terms of two broad categories of functions – career functions and psychosocial functions.

Career functions:

* Lobbying to get the protégé challenging and visible assignments
* Coaching the protégé to help skills and achieve work objectives
* Assisting the protégé by providing exposure to influential individuals within the organization
* Protecting the protégé from possible risk to her reputation
* Sponsoring the protégé by nominating her for potential advances or promotions
* Acting as a sounding board for ideas that the protégé might be hesitant to shares with her direct supervisor.

Psychosocial functions:

* Counseling the protégé about anxieties and uncertainty to help bolster her self – confidence.
* Sharing personal experiences with the protégé
* Providing friendship and acceptance
* Acting as a role model

Some organizations have formal mentoring programs where mentors are officially assigned to new or high potential employees. For instance, at Edward Jones a financial services firm 24,000 employees, mentors are assigned to new employees after recruits have completed the company’s initial 2- month home study program and 5 day customer service seminars. The new employees shadow their mentor for 3 weeks to specifically learn the company’s way of doing business. However, in contrast to Edward Jones’s formal system, most organizations rely on informal mentoring with senor managers personally selecting an employee and taking that employee on as protégé. Informal mentoring is the most effective mentoring relationship outside the immediate boss subordinate interface. The boss subordinate context has an inherent conflicts of interest and tension, mostly attributable to manager’s directly evaluating the performance of subordinates, limiting openness and, meaningful communication.

Why should a leader want to be a mentor? There are personal benefits to the leaders as well as benefits for the organization. The mentor protégé relationship gives the mentor unfiltered access to the attitudes ad feelings of lower ranking employees. Protégés can bean excellent sources of identifying potential problems by providing early warning signals. They provide timely information to upper managers that short-circuit the formal channels. So the mentor protégé relationship is a valuable communication channel that allows mentors to have news of problems before they become common knowledge to others in upper management. In addition, in terms of leader self-interest, mentoring can provide personal satisfaction to senior executives. It gives then the opportunity to share with others the knowledge and experience that they’ve developed over many years.

Are all employees in an organization equally likely to participate in a mentoring relationship? Unfortunately, the answer is no. Evidence indicates that minorities and women are least likely to be chosen as protégés than are white males and thus are less likely to accrue the benefits of mentorship. Mentors end to select protégés who are similar to themselves on criteria such as background, education, gender, race, ethnicity, and religion. People naturally move to mentor and can more easily communicate with those with whom they most closely identify. In the United States for instance upper management positions in most organizations have been traditionally staffed to white males, so it is hard for minorities and women to be selected as protégés. In addition, in terms of cross-gender mentoring senior male managers may select protégés to minimize problem such as sexual attraction or gossip. Organizations have responded to this dilemma by increasing formal mentoring programs and providing training and coaching for potential mentors of special groups such as minorities and women.