Tuesday, February 5, 2013

From the Article Archive: Making the Most of Mentoring

Question: Is it okay to have more than one mentor?

Absolutely. Most successful women leaders will advise you to have more than one.

Sandy Postel is an award-winning leader who will advise you to seek out a diverse slate of mentors. Postel retired last year from her position as Vice President of Manufacturing, Quality, and Boeing Production Systems for Boeing Commercial Airplanes. Postel has been recognized as a Society of Women Engineers (SWE) Fellow in 2009, is recipient of SWE’s Upward Mobility Award, and was recently was named SAE’s J. Cordell Breed winner for outstanding woman leader in the mobility industry.

So what does an award-winning leader advise?

“One mentor is useful but you should have a whole portfolio of mentors. It’s like your personal board of directors” explained Postel, who is frequently called upon to deliver speeches on career-related issues.

Postel has refined a list of what to look for in a mentor. “There are really four different roles for mentors”, she said, referring to the roles of Coach, Appraiser, Advisor and Referral Agent, as described by Caela Farren in the book Career Spark for Managers.
1) The Coach

The first type of mentor is the coach.

According to Postel, this is “someone who’s probably not in your line of management but who really wants to see you improve your skills, encourages you, and helps to unlock organizational secrets for you.”

“Sometimes it is a peer”, she added. “Sometimes, it’s a one-time deal, for example, if somebody talked to you about a specific assignment or opportunity, or to coach you through a specific event. Or you may have a coach just on one dimension of your development plan, for instance if you needed to develop your public speaking skills.”

2) The Appraiser

“An appraiser observes your performance first-hand and speaks honestly with you about your performance versus your potential”, Postel explains.

Most commonly an appraiser is a person’s manager; however, Postel is quick to point out “… it could be a customer who is very familiar with the work you do, or it could be a colleague or a group of colleagues that you spend the most time with.”

Most companies have an annual performance management process, though some managers are better at performance management than others. According to Postel, the onus may fall on an employee to encourage their manager to become a better appraiser. “You really need to pull out the honesty, even if your boss isn’t very good at it, and find what he or she thinks about your potential, versus your performance.”

3) The Advisor

An advisor helps you to understand what the business needs are and assess what portfolio of skills you require to advance within that business environment.

Postel views this as an ideal role for senior executive mentors to fill, through participation in formal company mentoring initiatives, and says “This person tells you about the career path in your company and talks about risk and how the company perceives what risks you take. 
Advisors can assess your plan. This is a role that senior executives can play because while they may not observe your performance first-hand, they can certainly give you the lay of the land and describe what the company is about.”

4) The Referral Agent

“The last one is a referral agent and that’s the person who can create connections”, said Postel. “People come to a referral agent to find out how to navigate or to get information. They’ll help coach you around your development plans and your approach for getting training and the new assignments. For instance, people whose performance I did not know well used to come to me and say, “I want to get experience in new product development. Who can I talk to, to get started?”

Postel would act as a referral agent, advising mentees on who they should talk to and introducing them to leaders in her network who could answer their questions in thirty minute informational meetings.

She concluded “A referral agent’s role is valuable to you because it extends your network. It is also important to the company as its mentors and leaders are passing good people’s names to other leaders. It’s a real win-win and it makes for a great collegial environment to make the most of talent in the organization.”

Sandra Postel was a guest speaker in the webinar, Making the Most of Mentoring, part of the Emerging Women Leaders Webinar Series.

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