By: Kathleen Malaspina
Austin’s SXSW (South by Southwest) Interactive conference, held annually over a ten-day period in March, features a large contingent of tech companies aiming to launch “the next big thing.” As interesting and useful, however, is the conference’s amazing mash-up of people showcasing their creative ideas and sharing insights on successes and failures.
One recent session on mentoring and millennials had me reflecting on my own career occupying both sides of the mentoring table. This led me to ask a few well respected colleagues and mentors for their opinions on this question: What are the two most important factors in building a successful mentor and mentee relationship today? Here’s what they said:
Louise Tagliante is Managing Director of Protégé, a leading mentoring program focused on the professional development of women in Singapore and Asia Pacific. Louise has previously set up Asia-wide regional training programs in-house for both Amro Bank and Visa International. She has deep knowledge of what works. Here’s how she addressed the question:
“We’re dealing with people here, and every person is unique. So while there’s no exact formula for success, I’ve found it important for each of the participants to start by working hard to find someone who has the right chemistry. That means establishing trust, respect and a clear mutual understanding of intention. A mentee should choose a mentor based — not necessarily on who they like — on who can challenge them to fully achieve the mentee’s potential.”
Mentors must provide a positive role model.
“Also, I think it’s vital from the onset to clarify as precisely as possible the goals, the roles and intended outcomes for the mentor/mentee relationship. In these formalized programs the parties involved should write these out, discuss them and agree on them prior to beginning. Where feasible, there should be a high degree of confidentiality, which facilitates trust and open, honest communication.”
Tamsen Valoir is a partner in the boutique Houston-based Intellectual property law firm, Boulware & Valoir. Her thoughts:
“Mentees need to enter the relationship prepared with questions and be unafraid of looking ignorant or being candid about fears and anxieties. Different mentors have different strengths, and you may share differently with different people. So get more than one mentor of each gender.”
“Mentors must provide a positive role model. This is especially important when mentoring younger professional women seeking to emulate senior women executives. For both, face-to-face monthly contact is critical. Have regular lunches with the mentor you feel safest sharing with.”
“Be authentic; I can’t stress that enough. Show your mentee how you got things done and then encourage them to take your examples and make them their own.”
Georgette Pascale is Founder and CEO of Pascale Communications, an international healthcare communications company based in New York. Her take:
“On the mentor side: set aside regular time to devote to your mentee. TALK…email and text are fine but speaking with the person is imperative — too many folks go 100% digital these days. Involve them in your world. Let them listen in on new biz conversations (if applicable). Help with important company tasks that would benefit them to understand. I believe in immersing folks in your actual job for it to be a success and a good example of how to lead. Also, while you should be the main mentor, I always dig deeper with the mentee to find out their interests and also introduce them to other internal/external folks that can help. Don’t make this a one-stop shop.”
The fundamental is recognizing and applying the key ingredients to any good relationship.
“On the mentee side: be serious and curious and come with objectives. Don’t expect your potential mentor to read your mind. You have stuff to offer! Most mentees go in with this mindset of ‘getting.’ But frankly, I’ve gained knowledge and perspective from my mentees and ‘gotten’ more than I expected. We all have what we excel in and what we don’t.”
“Lastly, I always encourage folks to integrate examples outside of the industry in which they are working. For example, I enjoy boxing as a hobby and try to talk about lessons from that when speaking business. It can be boring to attribute all conversations around the industry you’re working in.”
Kathleen Malaspina is Founder and CEO of MhM Ventures, a marketing strategy consulting firm focused on sparking fresh ideas that ignite profitable growth for medical device and consumer healthcare companies. She has benefited greatly from both sides mentoring relationships over her career spanning across technology, consumer healthcare and medical device industries on four continents.