Having a mentor is one of the best things you can do for your career. But what about becoming a mentor? Is it as beneficial for your career as having a mentor of your own?
We asked a handful of leaders whether they think executives should take on the role of mentor. Here's what they said:
Steve Barriault, Global Technology Sales Leader
Should executives take on the role of mentor?
When I read that question, my first reaction was: "Why not?"
An executive has a lot of experience and wisdom to offer a mentee. You can convey a sense of passion for what you do. You can tell tales of how you solve problems cleverly, helping your fellow professionals avoid pitfalls and come up with ingenious solutions of their own.
Unless you are what I call a negative leader, there is no downside to be a mentee.
With so much to give, why on earth should an executive pass on the opportunity to become a mentor?
And then, I realized that albeit this was true from an altruistic standpoint, many out there may hear something quite different in that same question. It can be summed up in a few simple words: "What is in there for me?"
So, let us analyze this.
First, there may be a fear that the people you mentor will somehow become your future competition. There are only so many seats at the top, right?
Perhaps, but look at the executives that are going up the ladder and are successful. They all seem to have something in common—a deep, deep network of other executives. These are the people you tap to build your organization when you reach the stratosphere.
One man (or woman) cannot do everything alone—there needs to be helping hands, and the higher you go, the more of these hands you need.
Do you know a better network member than your former mentee? I don't.
Perhaps they become your equals. Perhaps they go on elsewhere in the industry. They may even "do better" than you (depending on how you interpret that statement). But unless they are ingrates, they become resources for you nonetheless.
So, yes, you get something out of mentoring someone, even if you limit yourself to the transactional aspect.
But then, if you are willing to be non-transactional, there is more magic on tap. Mentoring is a reward all on its own.
I built a territory from scratch. We went from zero to millions. That meant recruiting a burgeoning team of sales and sales engineers. I also trained a few to become local leaders.
That means I took them under my wings, showed them the ropes, in short, mentored them into becoming stellar performers.
Today the territory is highly successful. I certainly take pride in this. But perhaps even more so, I take pride in the blooming of these individuals that I recruited and mentored. It was, and still is, a real pleasure.
Along the way, it taught me how to be a better leader, a better pedagogue, a better human being. That mentoring paid off for everyone in the equation: mentees, the company, and me.
And I want more of it!
"There is more happiness in giving than in receiving." No matter your persuasion, there is wisdom in that statement.
Steve Barriault is a global technology sales executive with 18+ years of experience in business development on three continents. He is currently serving in a 3,000 employee-strong company providing embedded software testing solutions in multiple industries such as automotive, avionics, industrial systems, telecom, and others. Multilingual, he holds advanced degrees in business, science, and computer science.
Chris Rankin, Marketing Executive
A lot of great minds have analyzed quotes of giants like David Ogilvy, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg on the topic of hiring talent smarter than you. But honestly, what executive-level talent is going to take a step down to work for you if all you have to offer is the work? To attract and keep the level of talent these leaders insist upon, an executive must develop additional benefits, like a reputation for mentoring. But all models of mentorship are not equal.
A few years back, I worked at a large, forward-thinking, international company with a policy requiring a level of mentorship from all of its leaders. There were two women who were up-and-coming leaders, equal in quality of work, network, and credentials. I admired both of their careers.
Leader One looked at everyone she worked with inside and outside of the company, searching for the candidate with the greatest talent. She built a deeper relationship with that person, grooming them to become her successor. She was successful in getting that talent to join the company, and when she was promoted, that person had the connections and skills to fill her vacant role. However, that singular relationship was perceived as favoritism, despite the mentee's talents. Deloitte has done some research on succession planning, identifying negative impacts to collaboration and employee motivation.
Leader Two approached mentoring using product and marketing methodologies around building customer relationships (much like Hubspot's feature, titled "How to gather, share, and implement customer feedback to skyrocket business growth by helping your customers succeed"). She chose several talented candidates from different disciplines and employee audience types. These relationships gave her career an advantage by providing insight into issues and opportunities in leading the organization.
While every one of Leader Two's mentees expressed a desire for advancement, she found that each had a different definition of what that looked like. Some wanted career change, and helping them build bridges to those new roles increased cross-departmental collaboration. Some wanted increased responsibility, and they grew into leadership roles that hadn't previously existed as the company explored new business opportunities. Some wanted to model her leadership style and found advancement with partner companies improving the alignment and coordination between the two organizations.
This reminds me how important context is when planning and evaluating strategy. We live in a world where data helps us make better decisions for better outcomes and mentoring is a key function of leadership. Both leaders succeeded at the business task. But looking at the context of those two examples, it was Leader Two's approach that met the objective and also fostered a work culture that increased and retained the talent within the whole organization.
Chris Rankin is an experienced marketing executive who specializes in digital brand strategy and influencer marketing. She helps reimagine the customer experience with technology brands to create more meaningful, personal, and authentic connections. Her credentials come from 20 years of marketing experience in health, technology, and fashion, an MFA from the Academy of Art University, and a BA from Principia College.
Amy Hinderer, Business Management & Operations Executive
I'm sure we all can remember landing our first job. The fear and excitement that we felt walking into the office that first day, thinking to ourselves, "Wow...we made it...our climb up the 'corporate ladder' has begun."
Now, I ask you to fast forward to the present day and reflect on your career. I venture to say that there was someone at some point in your professional life that you admired, trusted, and looked to for answers as you planned your career development. These individuals were your mentors, individuals you built relationships with who provided the career guidance and counsel that helped shape the professional you are today.
So, I ask the question: should executives or other leaders take on the role of a mentor? A resounding, "Yes!"
Embarking on the mentor and mentee journey is a win-win for both parties. By focusing and carving time out for their mentee's professional development, this now provides an opportune moment for the executive to reflect on their own professional growth because of the questions the mentee is bringing to the table.
Secondly, as mentors, one of our roles is bringing out the best qualities in our mentees and helping build their confidence and self-esteem, and by doing so, it re-emphasizes the importance of these qualities within ourselves. We need to "walk the talk."
Lastly, the benefit of seeing mentees grow and develop into future leaders cannot be minimized. Knowing that you contributed to their professional development is a reflection of a great leader.
I applaud all who have given their time and wisdom to mentor our future leaders and I encourage those who have not yet mentored someone to seek out opportunities where you can make a difference in someone's career growth.
I'll end with a quote from Maya Angelou: "In order to be a mentor, and an effective one, one must care. You must care. You don't have to know how many square miles are in Idaho, you don't need to know what is the chemical makeup of chemistry, or of blood or water. Know what you know and care about the person, care about what you know and care about the person you're sharing with."
Amy Hinderer is a business management & operations executive with 18+ years of experience in global enterprise and start-up businesses. She has managed teams ranging in size from 10 up through ~35K supporting revenues between $2M - $9B.
Cynthia McCarthy, B2B Marketing & Brand Communications Leader
Should executives take on the role of mentor? Yes!
Effective leaders know the path through crisis includes planning for growth now and in the future. "To get beyond crisis, organizations must elevate the most important asset of the company: its people. By focusing on the fundamentals of people strategy—leadership, culture, talent, reskilling—companies can emerge stronger, more agile, more innovative, and better able to respond to an ever-changing environment." —BCG
Mentoring can be a key role in continuous learning at every level of the organization.
The mentoring relationship, either programmatic or organic, is symbiotic in nature. The mentor and mentee grow from the relationship. Executives can leverage their experience to guide emerging leaders learning the industry while navigating through rapid change. Executives can gain new perspectives and skill-based learning from each mentoring interaction.
My "just do it" nature did not jive with a traditional path to leadership roles. I followed my curiosity and took advantage of opportunities to work alongside much smarter people with diverse backgrounds who shared my passion for innovation. I have been fortunate to find mentors who challenged and championed me throughout my journey. Mentoring creatives, marketers, and business entrepreneurs is a privilege...and the bidirectional learning continues!
Executives who have a mentoring mindset can also help to minimize turnover and costs while setting the foundation for continuous growth.
According to Gallup, "Costs to replace employees range from 33% of an entry-level employee's annual salary to the cost to replace senior leaders being as high as 2X their annual salary." Today's professionals look to gain experience and rewards more quickly, comfortable moving to organization with more opportunities and training.
Much like digital transformation and sustainability initiatives, mentoring is a mindset driven from the top. Executives who model and champion mentoring across the organization can grow people and the business beyond the next crisis.
So now, ask yourself: how do you see mentoring by executives evolving to meet business needs in your industry?
Cynthia McCarthy leads global teams delivering integrated marketing and brand communications strategies for high-growth B2B companies. With 10+ years of marketing experience, Cynthia led content creation for 18+ campaigns resulting in a 20% growth in leads YOY. Applying a user-focused, agile approach, she collaborates with thought leaders, editorial and design teams, and technologists creating value for companies including Apple, AspenTech, AT&T, Oracle, and Nuance. Cynthia has deep roots in UI/UX and multimedia design and direction including Emmy-winning innovations at WGBH. She passionately serves as a mentor to creative and marketing professionals on design and technology. She chaired the Massachusetts Women in Technology Leadership Conference and is a member of the Massachusetts Innovation and Technology Exchange (MITX) and Babson College Coaching for Leadership and Teamwork (CLTP).
Executives can learn a lot from mentoring a fellow colleague. If you haven't had the chance to become a mentor, we suggest you jump at the next opportunity to do so. The leaders above know how valuable the experience can be. So, don't hesitate to give it a try!
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