IT mentors: How to make the most of this win-win relationship

IT mentoring gives leaders a satisfying way to pay it forward. It also offers a way to engage star talent, learn about new tech, and relate to younger workers. Here's how both sides can make it work best
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The Mentor CIO

What the mentor should bring: 5 essentials

When I recruit potential mentors into a leadership program, I’m sometimes asked, “So how does a mentor ment?” There’s no singular plan, but in my experience, great mentors bring five essential elements. They always:

  1. Teach by asking. It’s essential to understand a mentee’s challenges and goals, and to really dig deeply into both.
  2. Demonstrate humility. Not only does this keep the mentor from getting a swelled head, it also minimizes the pressure to always have an answer for everything. Bring an attitude of “I can learn from you, too,” and “We can figure things out together.” Roleplay, explore, don’t expect to just declare answers from on high.
  3. Bring energy. Your enthusiasm and openness, especially when a mentee is discussing difficult struggles, inspires and energizes the mentee to think of solutions and carry them back to the workplace.
  4. Provide context. Often a mentee sees a specific, immediate challenge, and doesn’t recognize the surrounding issues, or how to address that one problem within the mentee’s larger goals and opportunities.
  5. Help navigate. Mentoring is not just about “how do I solve this challenge,” or “how do I earn that promotion.” Great mentors help mentees consider multiple options and paths, and anticipate the consequences. There’s always a big-picture conversation.

“I want to see my mentees be successful,” Bill says, emphasizing that bigger picture. “I want to help make sure they’re in the right role. Some people who want to be leaders, maybe they shouldn’t be. Or those who say they don’t want to lead, maybe they should.” 

Ultimately, he says, it’s about helping the mentee move in a positive direction, with the right perspective on how and why to get there.

Why I mentor 

I believe we all get to a certain point in our lives when we have a responsibility to give back. Leaders succeed in part because of lessons they were taught along the way, and the occasional helping hand or vote of confidence. Having had those good fortunes myself, I’m committed to paying it forward. And if we need a purely selfish reason, I’ve seen that whatever benefit I bring to the mentoring relationship, I get back tenfold.

“As you mentor someone, there’s always a two-way learning opportunity,” Bill says. “I learn things from listening to what’s going on in the mentee’s particular situation. We go back and forth, exploring the nuances.”

And the relationships you create through such an effort stay with you, as Andy told me.

“Even after the eight months of the program, I continue to connect with Bill,” he says. “I was over at Dollar Bank a couple of weeks ago meeting with Bill and some of the people from my TechLX cohort for a talk given by another TechLX mentor on emotional intelligence. So the mentoring relationship has kicked off additional networking opportunities.”

As a mentor, I get energized by being with people who are hungry to learn, and I get inspired by their successes. I can’t recommend the effort enough, from both perspectives. With a little bit of thought and effort, mentoring can provide some of the most rewarding human connections of your career. It starts with a simple, friendly conversation.

[ Are you known as a leader with high or low EQ? See our related story, 10 things leaders with emotional intelligence never do. ]

Dan Roberts
Dan Roberts is CEO of Ouellette & Associates Consulting. In this role, Dan leads the firm that has been known since 1984 for “Developing the Human Side of Technology.” His team has helped more than 3,500 IT organizations build a world class culture, a high-performing workforce and a differentiated talent brand.

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