There’s one aspect of servant leadership that is most important: helping people work on their lives, not just their jobs.
Becoming a mentor is one way that professionals can give back.
Patty Alper’s passion is mentoring. She is president of the Alper Portfolio Group, a marketing and consulting company, and is a board member of both the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) and US2020, the White House initiative to build mentorship in STEM careers. Her new book, Teach to Work: How a Mentor, a Mentee, and a Project Can Close the Skills Gap in America, provides a compelling argument for starting mentor programs in organizations and communities around the world.
The Joy of Mentoring
Mentoring is your passion. What are a few lessons that you’ve learned from your work mentoring so many inner city high school students?
I’ve learned that the impact you can have on students can be even greater than you ever imagined. And it is wonderful. Consider this: so often these youth have absolutely no connection to successful, professional adults. When you mentor, you become their ambassador to a future world of commerce, which is often remote, complex, scary and seemingly unattainable. I have found an intergenerational connection forms particularly when you share your own life trajectory. And not the cocktail-party jargon about Mr. Success either, but more the vulnerable mishaps and the bumps and turns along the way. When you piece together life’s uncertainties with strategies that turn out well, you offer kids a truly relatable journey. It’s as if you have said, subliminally, “If I can, YOU can.”
When you enter into mentorship, you do so blindly. You enter without a return-on-investment in mind but simply a prospect for potential. This phenomenal exchange can result in an unanticipated “light bulb” moment. What I’ve learned is that you might actually set a ripple in motion. After 1500 student letters I’ve received over the course of 15 years of mentoring, I’m witness to a mentor’s impact that is unforeseen. Students, who look like they are not even listening or engaged, write to proclaim gratitude for an obscure detail you thought went unnoticed. Indeed, some mentees have stayed in touch and are young adults now— in their thirties—who have become entrepreneurs, educators, fashionistas, or preachers. Interestingly, the highest compliment of all is that they, too, are paying it forward. What I’ve learned is that you cannot forecast the genuine awe that occurs when you help another and the crescendo of that ripple effect.
What are a few of the benefits of corporate mentoring with students?
The difficulty with answering this question is keeping it to a “few.” Starting with the mentor, the benefits include the connections and friendships you make. You meet incredible, knowledge-craving students who will cherish every day that you make time for them. Also, you get to know your fellow employees, from senior management to administration, in a wholly new, shared experience of giving back. These positive experiences are brought back to the workplace and ultimately impact the culture.
Indeed, one of the benefits of offering corporate mentorship is that millennials prefer to work for a company with a robust corporate social responsibility program. Therefore, more qualified employees will seek jobs there. I believe they want to engage in good works activities that they might not be able to find or fund of their own volition. Employees feel a greater sense of loyalty to a company that isn’t solely profit driven but is a “company with a soul.”
Lastly, the employees find a unique way in which they can serve their company by sharing their professional knowledge as ambassadors in the community. Will those mentees go home and tell their parents about you and the company you work for? You bet. Will the school remember the corporation when it comes time to send their finest students for potential employment? Absolutely. And will an employee find like-minded people within the corporation who will all want to build on the mentoring connection you have? Almost immediately.
Watch Your Employees Benefit from Mentoring
You talk about the link between employee retention and mentoring. Would you share your perspective?
As Rick Luftglass, former director of The Pfizer Foundation’s education volunteer programs, said when I interviewed him for the book, “Employees want to be part of something that is bigger than a company. The business culture is internally based, but the philanthropy is external. That volunteer ethos provides something more than a quarterly return on earnings…it stretches employees beyond their day-to-day job. “
Mentoring boosts employee retention in a myriad of ways. The employees who mentor become the public face of their company. They take pride in this important role of bridging corporate relationships within the communities where they reside. As well, they enjoy an enriched experience that is brought back to the business culture. A sense of gratitude and loyalty evolves toward the company that provided this opportunity. All of these factors lead to greater employee happiness, more significant social connections, and greater satisfaction with the company overall.
Build a Successful Mentorship Program