The Advancing Leadership Blog

Demystifying Individual and Peer Mentoring

Mentorship is therapeutic, and simply put, it works.

What do you picture when you think of mentoring? Are you paying someone? Is it formal, in an office, or are you sitting in Tim Hortons? There are many approaches to mentorship, ranging from entrepreneurs paying their soon-to-be competition to spend a day teaching them the ropes, to joining a mentoring and/or coaching organization.

In the business world there are two general ways of going about mentorship. The first is reaching out and finding a personal mentor, and the second is joining a peer group, in which you act as both mentor and mentee.

Personal Mentor Success

An entrepreneur can benefit greatly from active mentorship and finding long-term support from someone they respect and relate to.

A mentorship study printed in the Journal of Applied Psychology found that “individuals with mentors report greater job and career satisfaction, better organizational socialization, higher salaries and faster rates of promotion than those without mentors.”

This sounds excellent, but realistically it is not that easy – not all mentorship relationships work out. Before you go about finding a mentor, consider what type of mentor would be a good match for you.

What is Your Criteria?

Here is an expanded list of things to consider when reaching out to find a mentor:

  • Expertise: First, finding the right mentor doesn’t start with simply approaching someone in the same field as you. In fact, they may not even be in the same field as you at all! A mentor from a different field can provide diverse ideas and a unique perspective. What is really imperative is that they have relevant experiences that can help you propel your business forward. When you are considering the expertise of a mentor, also think about important skills like networking or business planning – how can their other strengths complement your weaknesses?
  • Character: Ask yourself if this person personifies what you would like in your future, and how you want to accomplish it. Do they have a work-life balance that you want to achieve one day? Do their values and ethics match up with yours? How a person approaches business, and even life, will have a large effect on the way their knowledge and expertise will transfer over into your business.
  • Involvement: How often would you like your mentor to be available? How often would you like to meet with your mentor in person? Depending on what stage you are at in your career, you may need a mentor that is okay with being called during the work day, or you may be comfortable with one that can only meet with you once a month. Not only should your mentor be able to make time for you, but they should also be personally involved in your work and have a chance to really see what you do, and examine your strengths and weaknesses so they can help you to the best of their ability.

Reaching Out

Once you know what you need in a mentor, you can take the steps toward finding one. You can start with your personal network, conducting research on potential mentors via LinkedIn or by attending networking events. Contacting people you admire is an excellent opportunity because, even though you may think they are too busy, a lot of seasoned professionals enjoy giving back and sharing their expertise.

When you choose to have a single mentor, there are times when you may need to reach out to others to complement the mentorship you are already receiving. There will be some people that you will only reach out to a few times, while others will come in and out at different stages of your business.  Sometimes you have specific questions or situations where you will need outside expertise.

The process of preparing for, choosing and maintaining a relationship with a mentor is explained and explored intensely in one of the Globe and Mail’s Google+ Hangouts with host and editor, Katherine Scarrow, and guests Ash Yoon and Linda Morana.

Consider Peer Mentoring

The second approach to mentorship is joining an organization or group and being mentored by – and mentoring – your peers.Executive Meeting_000005327644Large

One study in particular that bears out the benefits of peer mentoring consisted of a year-long program where graduating students discussed their learning objectives. The graduates participating in the peer-mentoring group had a heightened sense of calling in comparison to the group of graduating students who did not participate. The study suggested that this sense of calling correlated with students looking at their future careers as a profession, not just a job and a means to make money.

While the transition from graduate to professional is a key time for mentorship, there are many cases where business owners, entrepreneurs, and chief executives realise that they need outside perspective from like-minded individuals.

study of 21 business owners participating in 20 hours of face-to-face group and peer mentoring supports this notion. The mentors were tasked to apply new learning concepts, help implement change, assist mentees in using external tools and provide an external perspective to business and personal challenges.

The study concluded that “the mentoring program described in this study was generally highly valued by the participants. There was merit in having few mentors and having them work as a team.”

All but one participant was willing to pay for an additional six month course of facilitated peer-group mentoring.

The diversity of group mentorship gives business leaders a chance to see an issue from the point of view of an array of people, often coming up with a solution that they would not have conjured up themselves. It is beneficial to get input to help resolve your own conflicts, but this type of mentorship also gives you the chance to learn from your peer’s problems and figure out how to deal with them before they happen to you (or avoid them all together). By establishing a sense of give and take, this setting provides a chance to give back to the business community and use your expertise and insight to help those around you.

Weigh Your Options

Different organizations will take different approaches to your professional development when it comes to mentoring. Some are built around peer mentoring while others deliver one-to-one mentoring.

Here are a few organizations and their approaches:

  • CAFE, the Canadian Association of Family Enterprise is a national not-for-profit that focuses purely on family-owned businesses. They help family businesses through seminars conferences and sharing experiences in advisory groups.
  • The Women’s Executive Network (WXN) is dedicated to the advancement and recognition of women in management, executive, professional and board roles. They offer both one-to-one and peer mentoring programs.
  • TEC Canada offers a blended program with a dual focus on both peer and one-to-one mentoring. TEC’s executive forums emphasise personal and professional growth through learning and accountability.
  • The Young President’s Organization (YPO) is tailored to support CEOs, Managing Directors, Chairman and Presidents under the age of 45 through peer-mentoring groups. This organization focuses strongly on business and social networking and the associated trading of ideas.

When searching for a peer group, joining an organization is not the only option. Many professionals opt to search out or create their own peer groups. The True North Groups Institute is a useful resource if you are looking to build your own peer group and reap its benefits.

You can also broaden your range of peer mentors by joining more than one organization. For example, a woman may join a women-focused group such as WXN, while also participating in a co-ed True North group.

Some differences between having an individual mentor and joining a peer group are:

  1. While you can often find mentors for free on your own, organizations have monthly, annual or per-service fees.
  2. Organizations generally have wider access to global best practices and may have the advantage of working with affiliates, which will provide you with quality business resources and a wide network.
  3. With an individual mentor you can make up your schedule as you go, whereas with an organization or peer-group you often have a consistent schedule.
  4. In a group setting you always have access to the opinions of many others in different fields with different ideas and perspectives.
  5. In a peer-group setting you play the role of both mentor and mentee.

Some similarities between having an individual mentor and joining a peer group are:

  1. Both approaches realize that the maximum benefit will come from reaching out to people with different expertise.
  2. Both work! Whether your sounding board consists of 1 person or 16, you can find an approach that will help you grow personally and professionally.
  3. Both take work. If you want to have a successful mentorship experience, remember that as a mentee you are equally responsible as your mentors for the success of the relationship. Honesty, vulnerability and openness to accepting help and advice are essential to the process.

Want to Find Out More?

Could mentorship be for you? For more information about taking the steps towards finding a mentor, check out this insightful article.

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