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The Mentorship Experience

Wednesday, March 25, 2020   (0 Comments)
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Creating the support foundation for building and enhancing career path decision making

Mentorship is an especially important element towards defining one’s career development objectives.  Whether formal or informal, through observation or participation, via boss or colleague, there is so much potential learning available in the everyday workspace to lead and refine an individual’s professional and personal journey.

“There is the ability to learn from everybody around you,” states Sarah Jane Chapman, senior manager-transportation, Abercrombie & Fitch.  “It is especially important if you want to grow your career and keep having that upward mobility that you meet with people who have been in the places that you want to go and talk to them about their experiences, and the trials and tribulations they faced to get to the place that you’re trying to get to yourself.”

“Mentors have played key roles at various points in both my academic and professional journeys,” Sheila M. Benny, co-founding president, Optricity, shares. “Throughout my career I’ve dealt with up and down economies, technology and service challenges (internal and external to my own company), devastating corporate and climate events that have affected clients and employees alike.”

She continues, “To put it mildly, I’ve experienced responsibilities that have weighed heavily on me, and during all of these cycles I’ve had the benefit of stalwart mentors who have been there for me with guidance through the thick of it all.”

Meanwhile, Chapman relates that while she only has been involved in one formal mentorship program in her career, her preference is the informal approach.  “I personally prefer the informal approach because it allows things to happen much more organically, and people who really are the best match for each other tend to come together a little bit better when it’s not forced,” she explains.

Abercrombie’s informal culture

According to Chapman, a participant on the Women @ WERC Mentorship panel at the 2019 WERC Conference, “At Abercrombie we have a very informal culture, and a major part of it is the concept of having ‘touch bases,’” she explains.  “I can literally request a touch base meeting with anyone in the company and no one would bat an eye about it because that’s socially acceptable here.”

It’s not unusual for an individual to approach someone in a leadership position or a colleague, whether in the same or different work area or department and ask for a touch base meeting to discuss some career, business, or other matter.  “It’s like me contacting someone with whom I had no previous connection, but who previously had been in a space that ultimately I want to get into and asking them, ‘What did you do to get there?’ and other questions appropriate to the issue,” Chapman explains.  It’s a start to creating an informal mentor relationship.

“Because it is so normal and is viewed so positively, it takes away a lot of the awkwardness,” she shares.

Mentor types


“Three types of mentors can serve at unique times based on the needs of the mentee,” according to Benny, also a Women @ WERC Mentorship panel participant.  She described the following in a WERCSheet post-conference interview:


Mirror Mentor.   The mentor helps the mentee examine who he/she is in the moment. This mentor helps the mentee see a true reflection of oneself in the here and now.


Sage Mentor.  Here the mentor offers a peek into the future. This mentor provides the mentee with a 360-degree vantage point of not only where the mentee wants to go, but a holistic view of who the mentee is currently, can become in the future and the steps needed to get there.  Additionally, the sage mentor helps the mentee identify barriers that may be faced and the mentor can serve in the dual role of sponsor and can help to remove barriers along the journey.

“The sage mentor also may point out critical junctures that could take the mentee off course, help retool and guide the mentee back on track,” she explains. “Alternatively, as the mentee reaches various milestones, kind of like decision tree nodes, the sage mentor can help the mentee determine whether there is an opportunity to branch into new territory, perhaps detouring, thereby creating wonderful additions to the journey, or adjust to avoid derailments from the critical path.”


In-training Mentor. An in-training mentor, typically a person junior to the mentee in certain dimensions, but someone who outperforms in at least one critical dimension where growth is opportunistic (take technology. as an example). “It takes effort and skill as well as intelligence to keep up in tech arenas,” Benny notes. “An in-training mentor may not only have the opportunity to provide tidbits of useful information in a non-threatening manner, but this interaction allows the candidate to practice a future role as a more fully-fledged mentor--trying on the mentoring role for size.”


Mentor-in-the-Moment process


Benny co-developed a mentoring process, Mentor-in-the Moment, which she likens to Montessori meets the Socratic method. The Mentor-in-the-Moment process is a stagiaire (trainee)-directed, mentor-facilitated, experiential learning process.


“The mentor guides the mentee through a provocative questioning process designed to elicit thought relationships and connections between and among disparate systems and information,”, she explains. “In real-time the mentee absorbs new knowledge, organizes, analyzes, processes the information and learns to intuit a deeper understanding of the parsed data.”


In this way, mentor and mentee co-create a process-based approach to discovering, seeking and striving toward the mentee’s goals while concurrently achieving success in their mutual ecosystem. “The mentor seeks to engage, reflect and activate the mentee, who in turn reflects these notions back to the mentor through action,” according to Benny. “This engagement transfer is not a mirror of idea or knowledge exchange, but an activation of thought process.”


The qualities required for this process include dedication on the part of both mentor and mentee, willingness to learn, adapt, flex, dive deeply into new territories, stray from the beaten path and realize that the mentor may use obscure and disparate learning opportunities to stretch the mentee’s thinking capabilities.  The overarching goal is to teach the mentee to learn to think in more critical and constructive ways and to make connections that will stimulate creative problem solving on one’s own in the future.


Mentor/mentee observations


To make a relationship work, according to Chapman, there needs to be a really great chemistry between the parties. “If there isn’t that level of comfort and respect between mentor and mentee, or if the parties were forced into the relationship, you’re not going to get anything from that,” she observes.


Another point she mentions is that the mentee must lead the relationship. The mentee is in the driver’s seat of their career, and if they want to show they’re really serious about the mentoring process, they must be responsible for arranging the meeting times and dates, for example.


However, at the beginning the mentor must determine: what are the mentee’s expectations, what do they plan to take away from the sessions, are they looking for constructive criticisms, or coaching, or just having the mentor as a sounding board.  “Figure out what the mentee is looking for so the mentor can deliver and create a successful pairing,” Chapman advises.


“Both parties should be selective in choosing a counterpart during the mentoring process,” Benny recommends. “Only commit to giving the time that you truly have to do the job well.”

For mentors, she advises, “Decide if you are the type of mentor who will identify and select your mentees to be mentored; or, if you’ll accept mentees who seek you out.” As with any relationship, clear expectations and quality communications will increase the potential for mutual satisfaction.


The mentor/mentee relationship has a natural lifecycle, says Benny.  It is clear when it is time for the mentee to see a new type of mentor.  Circumstances change and the coupling no longer works conveniently or with the connection that once facilitated success. 


“Evidence is usually a weakened link of communication or a general ‘sense-of-fit’ no longer works,” she explains. “The shift is inevitable and the mentee simply ‘graduates’ and moves on with good wishes on his or her journey.”

Mentoring can be as exhausting as it can be rewarding,” notes Benny. “Find the right pairing and it is a joyful, rewarding experience.  A mismatched mentoring relationship needs to be rectified quickly for the benefit of both parties.”