Very early in my career, I had four bosses in the span of less than four years. It’s not as bad as it sounds; I worked in retail where churn was high. And all of the departures were due to internal promotions, so that’s a good thing. I look back on that time fondly because each woman I reported to had very different work styles and personalities. Not only were these women my work team leaders, they were my mentors and I was a sponge, soaking up their advice and insider tips.
If you’ve ever had the good fortune of being properly mentored, you know what a blessing it is. Think about the folks you’ve learned from – what was the impact of them giving of their time and wisdom? If you’ve been in the workforce several years, chances are you have something to give back to an eager up-and-comer who would love to (metaphorically) sit at your feet and learn from you.
The Pandemic Has Created a Mentoring Gap
Like many elements of our work life, the pandemic has affected workplace mentoring in profound ways. Office-based workers are still sorting out the mechanics of time spent in actual offices with their colleagues and this has implications for both formal and informal mentoring practices.
There is a definite gap in mentoring expectations, depending on one’s role in the organization. People in senior leadership roles are enjoying their work from home (or hybrid) schedule. These seasoned leaders have already benefited from mentoring earlier in their careers. Their networks are solid and they’ve banked reserves of trust. Therefore, the act of mentoring people might not feel so urgent.
By contrast, younger workers are eager to interact (in person) with their colleagues. This is especially true for interns (70% of whom reported hating remote work) and recent college graduates. This makes sense, doesn’t it? One of the benefits of being an intern is to connect with senior leadership and experience all that a company has to offer. And let’s face it – there’s nothing quite like the infectiousness of a young, bright mind, fresh out of college and full of ideas.
The Leadership Imperative
Even though established leaders may be comfortable working from home there’s a leadership imperative at play here: early-career rising leaders need mentors. So here’s the tough decision veterans leaders need to wrestle with: is it time for you to “suit up” and get back in the face-to-face office game?
This calculus becomes even more important when promoting and mentoring women into the leadership ranks. Research has uncovered a “Broken Rung” effect – women are 34% less likely to be promoted to the first tier of leadership responsibility. This creates a deficit of qualified female candidates for future leadership responsibilities, setting up a systemic problem that makes achieving true diversity and equity difficult.
Connecting through Planned Serendipity
Hybrid work is here to stay. With 74% of U.S. companies either already using some form of hybrid work configuration or in the stage of implementing a formal process, leaders need to rethink how they are going to incorporate the humanistic “in person” touches that makes mentoring so effective
Consider this quote from Thrive Global’s CEO Arianna Huffington interview:
As we move forward into a hybrid world, we need to find ways to rebuild the social capital that we accrued more naturally in the in-person, pre-pandemic world. That means replacing serendipitous connection with new, intentional rituals. It might seem paradoxical to be deliberate about creating serendipity, but this is the only way to create the space and seed it with elements that can spark human connection.
Tips for Mentoring Others
Here are four ideas to help put mentoring back on the front burner for you.
Make time for serendipity. Taking a page from Ms. Huffington, get intentional about your mentoring practices. Create blocks of time each week on your calendar (30 minutes, 15 minutes, whatever you think is reasonable) that allow for outreach. If you’re in the office, walk to wherever people hang out, offer to buy someone a cup of coffee. If you’re WFH, spend that time sending quick check-in messages to people: Haven’t heard from you in awhile, how are you doing? or, Checking in. How can I help today?
Double up. One of the biggest challenges leaders describe when it comes to mentoring is lack of time. Keep in mind that mentoring is not only about imparting wisdom but helping others gain access. So look at your calendar and decide: where can you “double up”? (i.e. mentor while doing another task.) Going to a meeting with key stakeholders? Invite your protege to walk with you to the meeting and make casual introductions in the hallway. Conducting a meeting that a less experienced staffer typically wouldn’t attend but may find interesting? Invite them – and be sure to introduce them to the meeting participants in a way that highlights their skills.
Flip the script. You don’t have to do all the heavy lifting. Again, it’s about creating opportunities for connection with younger colleagues. Look for a late-career colleague who could benefit from working with a younger colleague. By facilitating reverse mentoring opportunities you are paving the path for inter-generational learning and sharing.
Make it professionally personal. When you interact with people, make note of personal comments that might help you form a connection. Do they mention a hobby you both enjoy or a style of music or cuisine that is intriguing to you? Of course, you must respect professional boundaries, but most people will really feel “seen” if you remember to ask, “How was that festival you went to last weekend?” Have trouble remembering the details? Write it down or voice record it on your phone so you can remember the basic details.
If you’ve dialed back your mentoring of others, is now the time to consider getting back into the game? Not only will you help out rising leaders, you’ll reap benefits as well. Studies show that the benefits of mentoring include greater job satisfaction and lower turnover for both the protege and mentor. Give one or more of the suggestions above a try and let me know in the comments: how did it go?