The word mentor or mentee has different meanings to many. Some people have been mentors or mentees themselves through an informal or formal program or relationship. Others would love to have a mentor or would like to mentor others. Some may feel they do not know enough about what a mentor/mentee relationship really involves. In order to shed some light on this topic, I interviewed senior level executives that serve as mentors through Conexion’s formal 10-month mentorship program through which mentees are paired with mentors, based on personality match, to get their perspective.
Kip Hollister, Founder and CEO of Hollister Staffing, said “Mentoring is critical to developing leaders.” According to Hollister, her mentor role through Conexion was a gift – she got as much back as she gave. Hollister said “Phyllis Barajas, Conexion’s Executive Director, is very selective in putting together the ideal mentor/mentee fit and has an uncanny ability to put together partnerships that are truly fulfilling.”
“It is a mentor’s job to really listen to their mentee, share tough feedback, and push them out of their comfort zone. It is amazing what can transpire when you do. If one is not experiencing some element of discomfort, they are not growing. Often the mentee needs a sounding board and the answers lie within the mentee. It is the mentor’s job to draw it out, so they experience the light within,” said Hollister.
Hollister shared that she and her mentee would meet for dinners by the fireplace at Hollister’s home and have candid conversations. Some of the topics that Hollister discussed with her mentee included networking, public speaking/presentations, and work/life balance.
“It is critical to care about developing the workforce of the future, help current leaders grow, and step outside our own circles of influence to help others. We need to think and operate differently as leaders, get off the sidelines, and get into the game to create a stronger economy,” said Hollister.
Walter Pressey, Sr. Advisor at Patina Solutions and former President, Vice Chairman and CFO of Boston Private Financial Holdings, has had several mentors throughout his career and serves as a formal mentor for Conexion. According to Pressey, his first experience as a Conexion mentor was a very positive one. “You get more out of it than you give. The more you know about someone on a personal level, the better off you are. Mentors and mentees should learn about each other on an informal basis, whether over a cup of coffee, a meal, or another occasion. My wife and I attended a baseball game with my mentee and his wife, and it was a great experience,” said Pressey.
According to Pressey, mentors give a mentee a chance to try out ideas in a safe environment. Mentors should introduce their mentees to others in circles they normally would not know, which is helpful to advance in one’s career. A relatively small improvement in networking ability can make a huge impact. Like Hollister, Pressey felt that a personality match is very important to making a mentoring relationship productive.
Elizabeth Ricci, Vice President of Engineering at PHT Corporation, has always enjoyed identifying raw talent and tapping into that talent to move individuals into leadership positions. She now serves as a formal mentor for Conexion. Over the years, Ricci has worked with high energy, highly skilled employees who needed someone to mentor them and help them develop as leaders.
“We need to develop new leaders to keep our country great. We need to pull people from the ranks and help them become spokespersons and role models for others,” said Ricci. Ricci suggested that arranging for your mentee to shadow you at work and during meetings can be a very effective way for the mentee to learn by example. According to Ricci, she also learns from her mentee. “Trust is important in the mentor/mentee relationship, and "tough love" is also important when needed, as well as proper mentor/mentee pairing, so the relationship becomes mutually enriching,” said Ricci.
Based on my conversations with mentors, in addition to the importance of personality matches, the key takeaways to an effective and mutually rewarding mentor/mentee relationship include:
- Open communication and feedback
- Willingness to listen
- Get to know each other on a personal level
- Mutual willingness to help each other and give back
If the above elements are present, the mentor/mentee relationship can be a very positive, life changing experience. Stay tuned for the mentee perspective, which will appear in a future article!
Ellen Keiley is President of the MBA Women International Boston Chapter Board of Directors, is a member of the City Year and United Way’s Women’s Leadership Initiatives, and is a Boston World Partnerships Connector. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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