A Modern Approach to Mentoring
By Cindy Powell, President/CEO, Bespoke Management and Technology Services LLC

The concept of mentoring has been seen as an important innovation in management since the 1970’s, when thought leaders of the time began to design and implement corporate mentorship programs.   Formal mentorship initiatives helped to make the term more popular, and provided a means to better articulate mentoring goals and techniques.  Formalizing the discipline should not be construed as inventing it.   Throughout history, elders have taken protégés under their wings to advise, guide and teach.  Many of our best practices in mentoring have been in use for centuries, while social and technical evolutions have resulted in adding new and improved approaches for passing knowledge from one generation to the next.

Having a mentor has many quantifiable benefits for gaining knowledge about a profession, an industry, and/or an employer’s unique corporate culture.   Less quantifiable, but equally important, are the confidence building benefits associated with knowing that there is someone who cares about your success and is there when you need advice to help you navigate through day-to-day challenges and important career decisions. 

As time moves on, so do the demands of our future leaders and the people who mentor them.  While the need for mentors, and many of the time-proven techniques for mentoring, continue to be relevant, the complexities of our current business environment require a new evolution in the way we construct our mentor/mentee relationships.  One approach to meeting these demands is to consider establishing a mentoring team that can bring specific guidance on the areas in which they are the most proficient.  By having multiple mentors, there is greater exposure to knowledge and greater opportunity to form a big picture point of view about the skills needed to pursue success in the mentees’ chosen career.

The latest trend in mentoring, the Multiple Mentors Approach, is based upon the concept that we can all learn from each other (Reverse Mentoring), and that having more than one mentor exponentially increases the knowledge available to the persons being mentored.  For example, a “Professional Mentor” can share information about current trends and proven techniques to be used in a specific profession (e.g. Underwriting, Project Management, Finance, etc.).  An “Industry Mentor” would have knowledge beyond a specific profession, and will be able to share information about new trends and changes impacting the insurance industry.  Likewise, an “Organizational Mentor”, can help the mentee to determine how to best apply their professional and industry knowledge toward helping to achieve the strategic goals of the company they work for.  An Organizational Mentor is normally a company executive that is in a position to offer advice in situations that require the mentee to navigate through internal politics or to provide their protégé’ greater visibility to the company’s executive team.

One modern concept which is growing in popularity is the formation of Mentoring Circles.  These groups are formed so that a variety of participants engage in a forum to work together when new topics, or unique problems need attention.  Last but not least, a true twist to our ideas about the definition of mentoring is the practice of “Reverse Mentoring” which can be a valuable concept to help older leaders and colleagues learn more about issues important to their younger employees and customers.  The Technology Mentor may be a great role reversal opportunity to provide a means for a mentee to return the favor. 

By re-thinking our ideas about mentoring, both current and future leaders can increase both professional and personal satisfaction through the nurturing of these valuable relationships, while improving the possibilities for a successful future.