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Getting the best out of mentoring

Posted by: Diane Brady on October 02, 2007

Our parent, McGraw-Hill, just wrapped up the fifth phase of a mentoring program that pairs up people from different parts of the company (including Standard & Poor’s, McGraw-Hill Education and Information and Media Services—the unit that includes BusinessWeek).

To be honest, I was a little skeptical about the value of a formal program that links up strangers from unrelated businesses. But having been both a mentee and a mentor, I now feel it works well for a couple of reasons.

First and foremost is the lack of conflict (and resulting confidentiality) that these relationships bring. We are able to bounce ideas and strategies off each other with complete candor. More important, perhaps, the program forced me to think strategically about leadership development and career planning—priorities that often get lost in the frenzy of day-to-day deadlines. And it gave me a window into the challenges and thinking of another person. At the closing session for the latest phase, some of my colleagues shared ideas for getting the most out of a mentoring partnership. Some ideas:

1. Mix up the venues and ways that you meet. Some attended each other’s meetings, went to offbeat restaurants or even participated in seminars together.

2. Use a good book to focus the conversation. Among the ones considered most valuable by this group: Marshall Goldsmith’s What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, as well as Fit In, Stand Out by Blyth McGarvie.

3. Try to link up with other partners (if you’re part of a formal program) or bring in outsiders from time to time. It gives you added perspective, and broadens your network. One popular development here is the “mentoring circle”, which bring together pairs on a regular basis to work on leadership development and other issues.

4. Encourage each other to stretch. Whether it’s public speaking or getting an audience before a senior executive, good mentoring pairs often persuade each member to try new things.

The list, of course, could go on. But I’m a convert to the value of such programs, as are a number of my equally skeptical journalism colleagues. The value isn’t just personal. Although our company’s program is only three years old, a number of cross-business projects have sprung from the relationships formed there.

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How can you manage smarter? BusinessWeek writers Nanette Byrnes, Patricia O’Connell, Emily Thornton, Matthew Boyle, Michelle Conlin and Diane Brady synthesize insights from the brightest business thinkers, critique the latest management trends, and comment on leaders in the news.

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