By Chet Szerlag, MBA, FACHE, CMPE
Mentoring, in my opinion, is an overused term because I think we do it without putting the “mentoring” label on it. Mentoring is not like a shoebox with stuff in it that you pull out when you need it. It’s more aptly called relationship building, and it’s a core skill you should develop to use personally and professionally.
Looking back through your career development experiences, you can examine your own relationship-building processes (or perhaps the lack thereof!). Reflecting back even further to high school or college, you can likely identify at least one favorite teacher you felt you could talk to or who gave you some sage advice or pearls of wisdom. I think the key to personal and professional success lies in a simple question:
How does one go through life building relationships with people?
In life, we are taught to focus on developing our inner capabilities. To me, mentoring is a continual, externally focused activity. When you join a new organization, for example, you need to develop relationships to do your job and deliver what the organization expects from you. Very few of us have jobs that don’t involve people. In that regard, relationship building is a “bi-directional” core competency; that is, you need to be able to “manage up,” while also engaging in team-building across and down the organization.
I have always seen the value in developing and investing in a network of relationships, be it professional or personal. Some people are adept at it. Regardless, it takes time, and you have to give something of yourself for it to be valuable. You won’t be successful if you think of it as a one-way street or a transactional kind of interaction. It has to be deeper than that. I’ve had people contact me looking for information but not connection. In those instances, I think it’s a judgment call whether one responds. Cold calling is tough because people aren’t usually responsive when they don’t know who you are.
As you build your network, make it work for both people involved. If you’re reaching out to somebody for something, make them feel like you can offer them something in return or be there as a resource in the future. Consider LinkedIn as a practical example. I often get requests from strangers to connect on LinkedIn, yet they don’t explain why they want to connect or how it might be mutually beneficial. I tend to ignore these requests, but if I get an introductory note along with the LinkedIn request, I accept the new connection.
Human relationships are like your garden. You’ve got to water the plants and nurture them, but also remove the weeds! Relationships are similar: you need to nurture and sustain your key personal and professional relationships. If you know people, but you don’t stay in touch, it can be tough to reconnect, so you’ve got to invest time, just as you would in your own career skill set and how you do your job. Relationships are really important in life, and obviously, at work, they’re practically important. In this digital age, online interactions have deemphasized the personal contact, and fostered over-reliance on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.
Advice for early career professionals
With deeper, authentic relationships, people get to know you, and they can become friends as well as colleagues. For early-career professionals, I would recommend:
Not every person you meet or connection you make will become your BFF (best friend forever), so find each person’s uniqueness and consider how knowing this person makes you better and more knowledgeable. Knowing how to interact with diverse personalities is good because that’s typical of the workplace and life.
It’s never too late to start
A great friend of mine is lousy at developing relationships because he doesn’t invest the time that he should, and he feels insecure about it. He’s a senior executive focused on his job disregards the social aspects of it. He doesn’t invest in the social part, as he should. When it comes to making career moves, he has additional hurdles to overcome.
For more experienced professionals, I would suggest:
Not every workplace connection you have will continue beyond your current organization, but some may convert into true personal friendships. The earlier you start, the deeper the roots are that will develop over time. Whatever age or stage you’re at, don’t sit on the sidelines—get active, get involved and get nurturing.
It’s never too late to start … just be your authentic self.
|Have you checked out the SROA Mentor Program? Check it out here and sign up as a mentor or mentee!|