By Stephanie Kowal, Healthy Workplaces, Academic Partner
Mentorship is valuable. Different folks argue that mentorship is valuable for different reasons, but you will have a hard time finding resources telling you that mentorship is a waste of time. Some articles focus on the satisfaction that mentors receive for from contributing to the growth and well-being of someone else. Some say the networking and career development that can emerge from mentor relationship is invaluable to the protege.There are lists of benefits for both sides but one of the regularly cited reasons arguing the value of mentorship relationships is the leadership skills both mentors and proteges gain during their time together.
As mentors take on new proteges, they agree to be in positions to motivate and encourage others. Mentors are asked to mentor because they have reason to be confident in their abilities and skills, to share their wisdom, and to help others follow in their footsteps. It is easy to find the ways that mentors act as leaders. Indeed sometimes leader or leadership is embedded directly into the definition of what it is to be a mentor, like the Canadian Nurses Association that termed mentors as experienced and knowledgeable leaders that support the maturation of those less-experienced but who have leadership potential.
It is fair to assume that proteges want their mentors to be experienced and have leadership qualities. However, there is no grounds to say that proteges are less experienced or only have the potential to be leaders. Often proteges are exploring new ways to use their experience and existing leadership skills in more meaningful or effective ways. I would argue that proteges are all leaders from the beginning. Proteges often take the initiative to approach their ideal mentor to ask for guidance. Conversely, they might be asked to enter into an unnatural facilitated mentorship partnership through a company program. These people could easily say, “No thank you,” but instead recognize the potential benefits of being in these programs and jump in with ideas based on their own goals. Proteges lead their own growth and development through their initiative, which can be a very anxiety-provoking yet fruitful trait. While the mentor may be recognized for his or her history of leadership, both the mentor and the protege demonstrate leadership qualities simultaneously.
Mentoring as Partnership
It is this partnership–between two leaders interested in personal growth–that makes leadership through mentorship unique. Mentorships are mutually beneficial. Furthermore, they are cyclical in their benefits. At first, a mentor may benefit in most ways altruistically. They feel satisfaction in helping bolster the growth of a fellow employee or someone new to the field. Mentoring gives mentors an opportunity to reflect on their practice, understand where they are strong, and share that knowledge with another. However, mentors receive material benefits at times as mentorship can be considered community service that can further a mentor’s career.
Similarly for proteges, their new learned skills and strategies can make their job easier or make them more productive, increasing job satisfaction. Proteges may also use new skills, or develop an understanding and appreciation for their current skills, making them more confident in general. This confidence can be used to do their current job or may give them the motivation to pursue another job or career path they’ve been curious about for some time before their mentorship experience.
When each person grows, the benefits of mentorship expand beyond the initial reasons for engaging in a partnership at first. This is especially true in partnerships within the same organization. As the proteges becomes more confident in their skills and their voice, they can begin challenging some of their mentors’ perspectives. By contributing their thoughts, proteges give mentors new ideas and ways of thinking to consider. Consequently, both the mentor and the protege contribute to each other’s understandings of their organization the various experiences of those in different company positions.
When both the mentor and the protege share their knowledge in this way, they build each other’s capacity and the overall strength of the organization. Mentorship is a strong tool for organizational learning if mentors and proteges share their knowledge and their learnings with others in the organization. Everyone has invaluable talents, experiences and knowledge they gain through their day-to-day practice. Most often we keep this experiential knowledge to ourselves, taking it with us when we eventually leave the organization. We do not hoard our knowledge, we are just rarely given the opportunity relay it to others in meaningful or permanent ways. Journals, logs, reflections, or activities recorded during mentorships can all be used as documentation to share implicit knowledge with the rest of the employees, in turn building the capacity of many co-workers, rather than just within the partnership. Few things are as satisfying as building the camaraderie and knowledge of your coworkers others through sharing your own lived experience.
And here is where the benefits of mentoring come full circle for the mentors and the proteges. Two leaders with implicit knowledge have the opportunity to, first, learn from each other, then, create a resilient work environment by developing organizational best practices through sharing knowledge. This sharing builds everyone’s capacity, captures valuable knowledge (building organizational learning), and gives those in the mentorship partnership a sense of fulfillment and accomplishment.