Tyler Robinson is the Chairman of the Executive Board for Young Government Leaders, and Portfolio Risk Officer at the Export-Import Bank of the United States.
What is mentoring? Is it simply a knowledge transfer from one who has been there to one who wants to be there? I would argue that this is not the case and agree with Lois Zachary in her book, The Mentor’s Guide, that “Learning on the part of both mentor and mentee grounds the work of mentoring.” This mutual benefit of learning to both parties is critical to a successful mentoring relationship. This learning for the mentor can be as simple as learning how to teach and impart wisdom in a more effective way, which can grow them as a leader in their organization.
Young Government Leaders, which is a professional organization of more than 5,000 public servants committed to being the authentic voice for the next generation of aspiring government leaders, has partnered with the Senior Executives Association for the past 2 years in a mentoring program. We have deliberately made it a simple program that focuses on bringing together people early in their federal career with those who are or have been a senior executive in the federal government. In the current cohort there are about 40 mentors and 60 mentees. There are many benefits to the mentees from having high quality, experienced mentors. Typical benefits we have observed include career navigation advice, learning how to deal with difficult people, resume writing, and many more.
However, to those considering whether they want to put forth the effort to mentor someone, we have also found that there is a tremendous benefit to the mentor in this relationship. Most of the mentors in this program have spent their entire career serving the public and this sense of service shines through in their mentoring. As one of our mentors puts it:
I am a mentor because, when I was a young government employee, I was helped by a variety of folks who were very informal but valuable mentors. Once, I was thanking one of them and I said “there really isn’t any way for me to repay you.” He agreed but said that what I could do as my career progressed was to look for up-and-coming talent and do for them what he did for me.
This pay-it-forward mentality inspired many to become mentors, and as this program has progressed we have seen that our mentees have helped our mentors in many ways as well. Bill Valdez who is the Principal Deputy Director of the Office of Economic Impact and Diversity at the Department of Energy lists 4 great benefits to mentors:
1. Different generations may think differently about issues or processes, so executives need to understand that thinking to be effective in our jobs.
2. Helps build our professional networks. I am continuously amazed at how many of my former protégés stay in touch and/or reappear in my life.
3. Increases our emotional IQ. People cannot be self-aware unless they actively seek feedback from others. Protégés, if handled correctly, will provide that feedback.
4. It’s fun. The issues that protégés will bring up are interesting and challenging. I greatly enjoy the opportunity to interact with such high potential people.
With this in mind, it can still be a daunting thought to take on a mentee as many managers and others with experience are being asked to do more with less. In the YGL-SEA program we recognized this and asked that those in the program meet at least once a month for a half hour or more. In addition, mentoring doesn’t always have to be formal. It can be done throughout one’s day. A senior leader I have worked for just included me in meetings he would go to so I could learn both how he handled different situations and how my work fit in the big picture. Now that I have to speak and present in those meetings, I am much more comfortable and that early exposure has prevented me from making mistakes.
Finally, I ask that those who have been or are currently being mentored think about mentoring themselves. One doesn’t have to wait until they are a senior executive to become a mentor and contribute to an active learning environment. As Jim Hearn, the Director of Regional Business at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, puts it: “I take great pride that I've earned a degree in every decade since the ‘60s. I wish to share that love of learning with those who I mentor.”