The greatest leaders are the ones who empower others to be the best they can be. If you aspire to being a great leader, then supporting the people beneath you on the career ladder can be an excellent way of developing your leadership skills, while also boosting your enthusiasm for your work and enhancing your networks. As Art Markman writes on FastCompany.com, " Mentoring is a valuable source of energy when you find your own work motivation flagging."
As sustainability professionals, we're always telling people why doing good is good for business. But sometimes we forget that the same logic applies in our own lives too: doing good is good for our careers. Through mentoring others we can enhance our own job satisfaction and invigorate our sense of impact, we can advance our own personal development by honing our listening and interpersonal skills, and we can benefit the organisations we work for by opening to new insights and ideas from younger or fresher minds. In my experience from working with and coaching more than 3,000 sustainability practitioners over the past decade, I’ve seen first hand that mentoring relationships are a common ingredient in the most effective impact leaders.
So you want to be a mentor...
Good mentors – as this Forbes article explains – are self-aware, patient and empathic people with strong listening skills. They are open, honest and not afraid to be vulnerable, and committed to using their strategic insight, technical expertise and industry knowledge to contribute to the others' growth and development. They may have even been a mentee themselves in the past, if they aren't currently. They're also realistic: they know that they don't have hundreds of hours to pour into a mentoring relationship, and, to be effective, they need to manage their time investment with impact.
The latter point is clearly a challenge for some would-be mentors: a commenter on a recent blog post asked 'How can mid- and senior-level sustainability execs get involved without burning up precious time energy or exhausting their networks?' The trick is effective management. Taking a semi-formal and structured approach is the most effective way of making a business mentoring relationship work for everyone involved. As this excellent Mondaq blog notes, there is a recipe for success:
1) Define the structure
Start by setting up a meeting with your 'mentee' to set out the ground rules around the frequency and length of meetings and establish the key objectives and outcomes of your mentoring relationship. These should include the things you both want to get out of your partnership – its a two-way learning thoroughfare. Reflect and refer back to your objectives and outcomes regularly as they will guide you and help to focus your energy, while benchmarking successes and identifying challenges as you go.
2) Set up a contract
After the initial meeting, your mentee should go away and draw up a mentoring contract that covers the principles by which you'll work as well as the logistics. For example, it should include the frequency and dates of meetings/calls, the modes of communication between meetings, process reviews and a definition of scope and duration. It's also important to include a statement of confidentiality to protect you both and a statement from the mentee agreeing that they will be responsible for project-managing the relationship. State the objectives and outcomes here as well.
3) Stick to your side of the bargain
For you as the mentor, your part of the deal is to honour the terms of the contract. That means doing what you said you'd do when you said you'd do it and keeping track on your mutual objectives and reviewing the outcomes. It also means flexing those soft-skill muscles: empathy, compassion, listening, understanding, supporting, and - crucially - knowing when to step back and let your mentee fly.
Finding the right mentee
That's all well and good, but now if you've decided that you'd like to invest in a mentoring relationship, how do you go about finding a mentee? As Susanna Williams points out in her great blog on the subject, "the best mentoring relationships happen organically". Sherly Sandberg echoes this idea in her book Lean In, highlighting that while mentorship is important, the relationship cannot be forced. Keep your ears open for clues as to who might benefit from your support and invite them for a coffee. If that fails, she suggests contacting your alma mater’s career development office or alumni network. Social media is also an excellent resource – especially Twitter and LinkedIn – so get busy with those networks.
Let me know what your experiences of mentoring or mentee-ing have been like in the comments section. How did it enhance your career and would these tips have benefitted you? Do you have any more that I've missed?
If you are interested in leadership coaching to help you foster the skills, traits and values necessary for a bright career in sustainability amongst your employees, feel free to contact me.