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Ah, the sounds of winter: basketballs bouncing, whistles blowing, ice skates — uh — skating. For some of us, that's music to our ears, as we coach our sons' and/or daughters' winter sports teams.
Every year, I assume my coaching persona — a wishful mix of Wooden, Knight, Jackson and Yoda — in search of that perfect blend of disciplinarian, strategist and Zen father figure. In coaching fourth-grade girls, it's one thing to bark out orders, but it's another to speak softly about lessons learned from success and failure, the value of being on time, and commitment off the court. Fortunately, my (female) assistant coach is much better equipped to nurture these girls on the latter. Even at this early age, you witness how people are more open to learning life lessons from a person who has walked in their shoes.
There's a difference between coaching and mentoring, whether in athletic competition or your career. Coaching centers on improving on-field/job performance specific to a pre-established role and defined responsibilities; mentoring offers context to this performance with an objective of both personal and professional fulfillment.
A valuable experience
A mentor is often viewed as a wise and trusted counselor; someone who is confident in what he or she accomplished and wants to share that wisdom with a like-minded aspirant. A mentor sees many of the same qualities in the mentee, and relishes the opportunity to refine those traits. The mentee, on the other hand, seeks a dose of confidence in areas of uncertainty and views the mentor as a "behind-the-scenes" confidant.
Other benefits include:
• A mentor serves as a building block to a protegé's professional network and personal board of directors; mentors can be one's strongest advocate and a hub for industry introductions.
• It's an efficient and discreet way to build relationships outside of one's organization
An example of an organization that provides an external mentoring program is Women in Sports and Events. It serves as a resource, within the industry, and manages initiatives that enhance the success and growth of professional women. The WISE Within Mentor Program connects selected mentors (including men) and mentees in a guided initiative to provide career resource connections and support for women moving into leadership and executive positions.
Though external mentoring opportunities offer many inherent benefits, it's often one's first job or two where mentoring comes into play.
A successful relationship
Both the mentor and mentee must be in the right frame of mind to create a successful partnership.
For the mentee, it requires:
• Focus to seek greater fulfillment between career and life ambitions.
• Ability to listening first and ask questions, before talking and acting.
• Maturity to respects the mentor's time, position and experience.
For the mentor, it requires:
• Patience to teach and understand the pace that it involves.
• Thoughtfulness to be inclusive and want to make a difference.
• Commitment to make the time and emotional investment.
As with any flourishing relationship, both parties should be transparent with the tenants of their association in order to avoid painful pitfalls.
"The purpose of mentoring is to grow the mentee so the relationship can end and you have an enduring friendship on an equal basis."
— Neal Pilson, president, Pilson Communications
Finding the right mentor or mentee
Finding the right match is like dating. It's about compatibility and can't be forced. Here are a few things for both participants to consider:
• Define what a mentoring relationship means.
• If within one's own organization, mentees should identify respected senior-level employees and whittle that down by areas of interest.
• Don't target mentors/mentees for political gain.
• Seek diversity in the relationships. Ask friends for recommendations.
• Conduct an informal interview process to gauge compatibility in goals, experiences, personal style, and commitment.
• If starting out at a new company, ask human resources about mentoring programs. Position the inquiry out of curiosity, not need, and be certain of confidentiality as it relates to voicing career aspirations to anyone.
• Be mindful of organizations that possess a high turnover rate — it's probably not a positive mentoring culture.
Though mentoring opportunities present many inherent benefits to the mentee, it can also offer valuable insights to organizational needs, such as with training, career paths, expected entitlements, etc.
"A mentor/mentee relationship can open the eyes of the mentor by seeing the world from a less-trained person's perspective."
— Michelle Berg, executive vice president, Team Epic
What to expect
As with any successful partnership, expectations should be vetted early on. There must be genuine respect on both sides. If the relationship becomes forced and formal, the time between meetings will grow, and ultimately take on a boss-and-subordinate tone. A few thoughts:
• If in a formal program, commit to a six-month period and meet at least once per month. If informal, meet at least once a quarter.
• External relationships tend to be more successful, due in part to the casual environment, low political risk, and less work-related stresses.
• Mentees must drive the relationship, meetings and agenda; have goals; don't be a burden.
• Meet outside the office; make it convenient for the mentor.
A mentoring relationship can happen at any age. In fact, it can become more rewarding later in life as the rapport between mentor and mentee changes — and in some cases, even reverses. Mentoring is not for everyone or every organization. But if allowed to grow organically, it can offer a lifelong partnership that is rewarding to both parties.
"My participation as a mentee in WISE Within came during a very challenging time in my career. The relationships I cultivated then continue today and provide me with career support and resources, as well as close friendships."
— Jennifer O'Sullivan, national chair, WISE Within Mentor Program
Glenn Horine (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the executive director of Iona College's Center for Sports and Entertainment Studies, business development consultant and industry career counselor /lecturer.