How and Why You Should Become a Mentor

The Power of Mentorship

 

Giving back.

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.

 


“A mentor is someone who allows you to see the hope inside yourself.” -Oprah

 

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.

 


“Every great achiever is inspired by a great mentor.” -Lailah Gifty Akita

 

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.

 


“Millennials prefer to work for a company with a robust corporate social responsibility program.” -Patty Alper

 

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.

 


“Mentoring boosts employee retention.” -Patty Alper

 

Build a Successful Mentorship Program

Why Employees Are Unengaged

The True Impact of Employee Engagement

 

There’s one phrase that often goes unheard in the workplace, yet has a huge impact on a company’s success: employee engagement.

Most business leaders have the mentality that they’re responsible for providing work; employees are responsible for getting it done. Under this logic, it’s up to the employees to motivate themselves day in and day out.

However, it’s practically impossible to stay motivated in an unsupportive environment (which is probably why 70% workers are disengaged from their jobs).

 

Fact: 70% of workers are disengaged from their jobs.

 

Disengagement is a defense mechanism. Employees distract themselves from what makes them unhappy (work) with other things they deem more fulfilling, like looking for new jobs, talking to friends, or watching funny cat videos.

 

“When people are emotionally invested, they want to contribute.” –Simon Sinek

 

This helpful illustration from Company Folders provides an eye-opening look at just how low employee engagement could be affecting you. (In the U.S. alone, companies could save up to $350 billion a year through increased employee engagement.)

Read on to learn what’s causing employees to disengage and how you can help them get back on track.

 

“To win in the workplace you must first win in the workplace.” –Doug Conant

 

12 Intentional Behaviors That Lead to Big Impact

 

What’s different about the most remarkable leaders?

How can I have a bigger impact?

 

How Small Acts Can Equal Big Impact

Author and serial entrepreneur G. Shawn Hunter is the founder of Mindscaling. His latest book, Small Acts of Leadership: 12 Intentional Behaviors That Lead to Big Impact, argues that it’s the simple things, when done extraordinarily well, that make a great leader.

Shawn and I talked about his book and how it’s not always the most extraordinary, sweeping actions that make the biggest impact.

 


“The greatest leaders cheer us on when we try something new.” -Shawn Hunter

 

I love this philosophy because all of us can make just a few adjustments and improve our leadership today.

 

Do One Thing At A Time

G. Shawn HunterYou advocate that small, incremental choices can lead to a big impact. In your research for this book, what one small choice have you noticed in the most successful leaders?

I would say the one thing that successful people do is that they do one thing at a time. That might sound small and trifling, but, honestly, the way successful people get things done, or have meaningful conversations, is to do only that one thing. They turn off their phone when talking to people. They turn off email. They schedule time for writing and reading. They block off time for exercise and reflection. It sounds small, but it adds up.

 

Successful people do one thing at a time.

 

Is it possible to teach self-confidence? What are some ways to increase it?

The biggest contributor to building self-confidence is building competence. Nothing makes you feel confident like being prepared. There is also a type of self-questioning that can be quite helpful. Instead of repeating the mantra, “Yes, I can do this!” to build self-confidence, try asking yourself if you have the capabilities to achieve what you are envisioning. If you ask specific questions of yourself, you will be forced to answer to your weaknesses and reconcile them.

 


“The biggest contributor to building self-confidence is building competence.” -Shawn Hunter

 

Build Your Resilience

You talk about building resilience through challenge. Do challenges make the leader, or does the leader seek out challenges?

From what I understand through studying flow states, it’s a self-reinforcing paradigm, but only if you get the challenge part right. As your readers may know, flow states occur when the level of challenge presented meets (or slightly exceeds) your skill level. In that state we can become hyper-aware and hyper-focused. We also accelerate our learning. Once we feel that state, we often seek out those experiences which create flow states. There are people who can actually get addicted to inducing this type of state. They’re called Type T people, also known as adrenaline junkies.

 


Pronoia: believing the world is conspiring for your success.

 

Develop Persistent Curiosity

Persistence. I love the story of your daughter and how she ended up with a rare poster of Taylor Swift. What are some ways to develop persistent curiosity in everything we do?SmallActs-front (1)

Good question! The great physicist Richard Feynman once described how you can spot a real expert versus a phony. Look for three little words, “I don’t know.” The phony will have all the answers, while the experts will be willing to admit what they don’t know. Real experts are relentlessly curious, even assertively curious – that is, they will demand explanations for things that many others simply accept as rules.

Here’s an interesting fact about people who describe themselves as curious. These people are also assertive. Curious people are decision-makers. They are influencers. They often say they have direct influence over the outcome of decisions and change. If you think of the people in your company and community who consistently drive change, I bet you will be thinking of inquisitive people – people willing to ask the hard questions.

 


“Creating confidence is the result of applied effort and work.” -Shawn Hunter

 

Take a Break (even if you’re busy!)

You advocate the counterintuitive advice of taking breaks when we’re busy. Why is taking a break so important? How do you get a type-A, driven leader to follow this practice?

All-nighters don’t scale. Period. In some corners of business, we have created a work environment in which it’s cool to brag about how many hours we work, and how little sleep we get, and how many deliverables we accomplish. I worked in a company once that mandated a rapid response time to every incoming message. When you create an environment which requires people to constantly monitor correspondence over email and text, the next thing they do is constantly initiate messages.

Studies demonstrate what we already know intuitively. That is, our intellectual and productivity capacity diminishes rapidly when we are sleep deprived and when we are distracted. To answer your question, organizations and leaders should reward people who deliver meaningful, thoughtful contributions, not who puts out the highest volume of email noise.

12 Intentional Behaviors for Big Impact

1: Believe in yourself.

2: Build confidence.

3: Introduce challenge.

4: Express gratitude.

5: Fuel curiosity.

6: Grant autonomy.

7: Strive for authenticity.

8: Be fully present.

9: Inspire others.

10. Clarify roles.

11. Defy convention.

12. Take a break.

Defy Convention

Of the 12 critical competencies, is there one that more leaders struggle with than others?

How to Successfully Transition Into A New Role

Starting a new job is one of life’s big stressors. You want to make a good impression, hit the ground running, and have an immediate impact. Today employers have little room for someone who doesn’t. Honeymoon periods seem to last all of thirty seconds.

 

“To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.” –Winston Churchill

 

No matter how savvy you are or how many jobs you’ve had, you should think carefully about your onboarding process into a new company. Learning the culture, understanding what success looks like and building key relationships are unique to each organization.

Studies show that a great onboarding process can increase productivity and dramatically improve executive retention.

 

Onboarding can cut time to productivity by a third.

 

The infographic below summarizes some of the most important transition research in an easy-to-read format. I was happy to contribute to it.

theleadershipcrucible-executive-onboarding-infographic_final 2

 

“Without a struggle, there can be no progress.” –Frederick Douglass

 

40 percent of new leaders fail within 18 months.

How Great Companies Fuel Innovation Through Diversity

The Power of Diversity

I’m a passionate believer in diverse teams. Throughout my life and career, I have seen the benefits from multiple perspectives examining a problem together. If everyone thinks exactly the same way, with the same background, you end up with a narrow solution. A lack of diversity increases the likelihood of strategic blind spots.

 

“If we cannot now end our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity.” –J.F.K.

 

That’s why I read with great interest David Livermore’s new book, Driven by Difference: How Great Companies Fuel Innovation Through Diversity. David Livermore has written ten books on global leadership and cultural intelligence. He is president of the Cultural Intelligence Center and a visiting scholar at Nanyang Business School in Singapore.

 

“A lack of diversity increases the likelihood of strategic blind spots.” -Skip Prichard

 

The Goal of Diversity is Not Enough

In your book, you argue that diversity, as a goal, is not good enough. Would you elaborate on this?

I applaud any effort to hire a more diverse workforce. But if that’s all you do, you set everyone up for failure. “Different” perspectives, values, and strategies for getting work done easily lead to misunderstanding, frustration, and gridlock. Diversity needs to be managed with a culturally intelligent strategy for how to effectively use the diverse perspectives to drive innovation and improve employee engagement.

 

“The more diverse the team, the less likely participants will offer their input and perspectives.” –David Livermore

 

The Link Between Innovation and Diversity

You say that diversity by itself does not ensure innovation, but it does when combined with high CQ. What is CQ? What’s the link between innovation and diversity? 

Driven by DifferenceCQ, or cultural intelligence, is the capability to work effectively with people from different cultural backgrounds. It’s measured using a CQ Assessment, which predicts how effectively one will work in situations characterized by cultural diversity.

Our research finds that diverse teams comprised of individuals with low CQ underperform homogenous teams with low CQ. However, diverse teams comprised of individuals with high CQ outperform homogenous teams on several measurements including innovation.

Therefore, CQ becomes the moderating link between diversity and innovation. With higher levels of cultural intelligence, team members can effectively retain and use the differences among them that enhance creativity while minimizing the differences that create interference.

 

“Distraction is one of the biggest roadblocks to innovation.” –David Livermore

 

Prevent Diversity Fatigue

What’s diversity fatigue and how do companies prevent it?

Diversity fatigue is how I refer to the growing weariness felt by many staff when they hear they have to go through diversity training. Even individuals from underrepresented groups often place little hope or interest in diversity initiatives in the workplace. Research recently cited in the Harvard Business Review found that diversity programs did little to convince ethnic minorities that companies would treat them any more fairly than companies without the programs.

 

“The culturally intelligent are aware of how cultural differences influence the way team members approach a task.” –David Livermore

 

There are a variety of factors that contribute to diversity fatigue, several of which I explore more fully at the beginning of Driven by Difference. But the key to addressing this is for companies to take a more strategic approach to diversity. They need to address diversity the way they address other business opportunities and challenges—assess the situation, create a strategy, and form metrics for measuring accountability. If profits are slipping, companies don’t plan a “Profits Slipping Awareness Day” and then hope the awareness translates into better returns. It’s all hands on deck with everyone accountable. And then managers and teams need to be equipped with the skills to effectively use their differences to drive innovation.

 

“Smart, empowered teams are the best way to come up with successful products.” –David Livermore

 

In one chapter, you talk about focus and how the more personalities and cultures you have working together, the easier it is to lose focus. What’s the best way to experience the benefits of diverse thinking while also keeping focus?

It comes from clearly defining the goal (a key to retaining focus) while asking your diverse colleagues how they understand the goal. The goal may seem straightforward, such as reducing costs or improving efficiencies. However, the assumptions about how to most effectively reduce cost may be strongly influenced by one’s cultural values and assumptions. Focus comes from not quickly moving beyond the seemingly basic task of clarifying expectations and instead, using a diversity of expectations to more successfully achieve more innovative outcomes.

 

“Diversity: the art of thinking independently together.” –Malcolm Forbes

 

How to Build Trust With Diverse Colleagues