The Role of Mentoring: Developing Your Own Cadre of Jedi Masters

Remember the first Star Wars movie and the crucial role that Obi-Wan Kenobi played in Luke Skywalker’s personal development, teaching him the ways of the Force?

Obi-Wan encouraged, instructed and guided the talented – but unpolished – future warrior and liberator. In short, he served as a mentor, teaching vital skill sets and providing experience-based knowledge that helped the young Skywalker develop into a Jedi Master, maintaining and expanding Kenobi’s initial teachings.
Mentoring itself has a long tradition beyond mere fictional Hollywood fare. It is a critical element recognized for its value in nurturing talent in many fields, including sports, politics, and the humanities. Likewise, its role in successful business organizations has long been recognized.
Effective mentoring of talented associates leads to the development of tomorrow’s business leaders, and that helps ensure the long-term success of a company.
“While mentoring is often given lip service in business, it is a reality in organizations with winners and winning teams,” notes Joe Gilliam, author of The Manager’s Role As Coach.
In effect, a mentor who has “been there and done that” can convey accumulated knowledge and acquired skills, while providing fresh perspective on inner workings of a firm and an industry to other talented associates. “Typically, that’s how the star performers will align their career aspirations and goals with your organization,” notes Gilliam. “Mentoring is all about giving people broader outlooks, more things to consider. It is for career planning, succession planning and retention.”
Gilliam adds, “Mentoring lets employees soak up character, judgment and approach. It is the opportunity for them to apprise situations and cultivate their own ways.”
Meantime, the mentor similarly benefits, gaining a personal sense of fulfillment by passing along acquired talents to up-and-coming employees, further facilitating creativity.
The worthiness of the mentor role is well-established, but actual practice of certain processes is crucial in achieving a positive end result. According to Gilliam, mentoring not only includes giving advice, but also showing the colleague how to utilize skills, and – crucially – working in close collaboration with the associate.
“Mentoring is about doing and about understanding,” summarizes the author, who also offers several practical tips for more efficient mentoring. His advice includes:
  • Know your work, particularly reflecting on problems you’ve faced and how you’ve dealt with them. In turn, this will help you crystallize your understanding of the purpose of mentoring.
  • Know your organization, especially unique corporate inner-workings such as policies, procedures, and office politics, which can then be explained to a high-quality associate.
  • Become well-acquainted with the employee, taking a genuine interest in his or her interests, abilities, character traits, and personal background, thereby conveying a sense of respect.
  • Learn vital, adult-oriented teaching methods. These can include considering how people think, what motivates them, and how others process information.
  • Maintain a passionate desire to learn, absorbing new techniques and developments within your field, your industry, your business community, and parallel fields. By staying at the forefront of your vocation, this can help you convey vital information to a worthy associate.
  • Practice honorable character traits, such as patience, tolerance, kindness, and courtesy. Admirable personal qualities can help strengthen the relationship as you give the associate challenging assignments, helping to foster expectations while keying optimum performance.
  • Celebrate successes, praise accomplishments, and recognize milestones. The collaboration should be fun and exciting, as well as rewarding.
  • Think long-term and full-cycle, encouraging the associate to become a mentor. By developing today’s great leaders, and prompting them to do the same, you can help foster a talent pool of future business leaders, who in turn can help ensure the continued success of your organization.

Okay, so none of us will ever master the use of a light saber a la Luke Skywalker or Obi-Wan Kenobi. Yet, while Star Wars supposedly took place “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away”, the nurturing relationship showcased between the mentor Kenobi and his protege Skywalker is readily applicable in today’s business environment. Quite simply, good talent is hard to find, and mentoring is a valuable, effective, and efficient method for developing high-functioning employees. Through mentoring, the best and brightest employees are encouraged to make positive contributions to the organization.

Bottom-line: mentoring can be beneficial to the employee, the mentor, and the organization, and is certainly far more preferable than the corrosive “Death Star” effects that can result from employee neglect!

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