Steve Flinders: Hey boss, get a mentor
TEXT & PHOTO: STEVE FLINDERS
A friend has been running seminars for some German CEOs to help them develop their coaching skills. It’s been tough going. “The problem is, there’s no diversity in the group,” he told me. “They’re all rich, powerful, mostly men, and there’s no one to challenge their view of the world.”
Male, pale and stale leaders, in particular, should have a court jester who dares to say the things the boss doesn’t want to hear. But nowadays, keeping up with a world changing at ever more dizzying speed is becoming an imperative just for survival.
Which is where mentoring can come in. If you’re not sure what mentoring is, then please google it, although you have probably already had one or more informal mentors.
In a professional context, your mentor is usually someone older and more experienced, working in the same area (but not necessarily the same organisation) with whom you can meet periodically in order to exchange ideas, especially about the direction you want your own professional life to take.
How do you get a mentor? You think of someone who you really admire – no, be more ambitious than that, someone seemingly out of reach – and ask them. The worst that can happen is that they say no, but chances are they’ll agree. It’s rare to find someone who didn’t benefit hugely from being mentored.
What’s this got to do with our German managers? My reaction to my friend’s woe was that they needed some upward mentoring. This phenomenon originated in younger, more tech-savvy people explaining IT to older managers. Today, most millennials and zoomers inhabit a very different universe from that of their bosses, and it’s not only trends in technology that senior managers don’t see. They tend to be out of touch with the cost-of-living challenges that many people face; to be a few (light) years behind speed on social media; and not to understand that attitudes towards employment and employers have changed. They are often lost on gender and diversity issues. They may not grasp the importance of growing expectations of better work-life balance, responsible environmental policies and ethical consumerism. What’s more, they risk losing touch with their customers.
Reverse mentoring can help break down organisational hierarchy and make workplaces more networked. Why not get something going where you are? If it’s a no-no, at least you can formulate a question about upward or two-way mentoring for your next job interview.
Steve Flinders is a freelance trainer, writer and coach, based in Malta, who helps people develop their communication and leadership skills for working internationally:
Steve Flinders is a freelance trainer, writer and coach, based in Malta, who helps people develop their communication and leadership skills for working internationally: firstname.lastname@example.org. Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Discover Benelux.
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