I’ve long been convinced and have seen first-hand that good mentoring can change a person’s trajectory in their career, as well as in life. This is due, in large part, to the fact that good mentoring helps people make sense of their circumstances and have a correct view of themselves, and their intentions. Good mentoring also helps people acquire the tools and perspective necessary to succeed and to be the best version of themselves that they can be. But good mentoring also helps an entire organization increase its performance. There are real and measurable benefits to a good mentoring program. It’s been my experience that the difference in performance far exceeds any cost to do mentoring right. Mentoring gives us the courage to examine ourselves through the eyes of the people we impact, figure out what needs to change, embrace that change, and make a transformation. As a leader gets better at leading, people lean-in and engage, and as engagement goes up, so goes productivity, performance, and innovation. But there is more to mentoring than helping an organization increase its performance. Good mentoring is core to the idea of sustaining a highly-functioning diverse culture.
Almost every company in the United States articulates some form of commitment to diversity and equal opportunity these days. And while the entry- and mid-level ranks of most companies may more closely resemble the population in terms of diversity, a look at the top ranks of America’s top 100 companies tells a very different story. The C-Suite of these companies is less than 9% people of color and less than 23% women. Given these stats, one thing is painfully clear: there may be equal opportunity, but there isn’t equal development. One of the reasons that the “Girls Who Code” movement has gained such momentum is the recognition that if we want to change the ratio of females to males in the computer sciences, we must provide opportunities for young women to have an equal development track to the one that boys and young men are predominantly exposed to. The best way to ensure that a diverse workforce has equal opportunity to succeed is through mentoring. The research shows that mentoring is the surest way to not only prepare people with the skills to succeed at the next few levels, but it also ensures that the organization’s culture, values, and traditions are passed on to the next generation of leaders.
Alex Haley once famously said “If you see a turtle on a fencepost, you know he had some help.” And he kept a statue of a turtle on his desk as a constant reminder that his success was the product of other people in his life. I haven’t met an executive of any company that has said that they got there all on their own. Almost every one of them would say that they got to their position because someone took an interest in them – saw potential in them, and provided sponsorship, coaching, and mentoring. If you want to change the trajectory of someone’s career and life, be a mentor. And if you want to change the trajectory of your own life and career, be an intentional and effective mentor.