The Power of A Mentor

Understanding how mentoring provides value

Old style leadership methods simply do not work as effectively as they have in the past. If we agree that we need to respect each person for what they bring and that you need to provide each person with a work environment in which they can grow in, both personally and professionally, then it stands to reason that leadership models which emulate mentoring techniques provide a better fit.

Some of us are in a deficiency most of our lives unless we find someone that believes in us and helps us believe in ourselves.

Transformational leadership and servant leadership are two models that emulate mentoring techniques. What these two styles focus on is the building of relationships with your employees. They are your greatest investors in the organisation. If you have a good relationship with your employees, you will be able to know what sets them apart from others and what their contributions to the organisation can be, from a personal and professional perspective, ” argues Doug Lawrence.

Doug was instrumental in launching the first Provincial Human Resources mentoring programme in Saskatchewan and has been working with HRMAM (the Human Resource Management Association of Manitoba) to launch their Human Resources Mentoring Programme. As someone with more than 30 years of mentoring and leadership experience in both federal and provincial environments as well as the private sector, Doug believes that mentoring needs to be part of the solution organisations consider, in dealing with the challenges they face today.

In this interview, Doug shares with me why mentoring is relevant, the kind of critical skills mentors need to possess and the impact of our words in communicating ideas.

What is the most relevant benefit you can attribute to the practice of mentoring?

Doug: There are a lot of benefits. I look at this from a number of different perspectives. From a personal growth perspective, it is a way for a person to enhance their confidence and self-esteem. We all suffer from self-esteem deficiency from time to time.

Some of us are in a deficiency most of our lives unless we find someone that believes in us and helps us believe in ourselves.

I have seen such positive growth in people that have regained their self-esteem and self-confidence through the mentoring process. Whether you are a mentor or a mentee, you can also learn effective communication skills as well as relationship building skills. These are transferable skills that can be used in the workplace but also in your personal life. Mentors are also able to work with people to develop or enhance their critical thinking skills.

We seem to have lost the art of effective communication, relationship building and critical thinking and through the mentoring process, we can regain those skills and become more proficient.

From an organisational perspective, there are a number of benefits  to mentoring. Research has shown that it aids in the recruitment, attraction and retention of employees. It also plays a huge role in leadership development programmes as it provides the opportunity for continuous learning. If done through a mentoring culture, it will create a learning and development environment.

Where do you believe mentoring goes wrong in most organisations?

Doug: Mentoring will fail in an organisation for four main reasons:

1) lack of corporate support;

2) lack of structure;

3) lack of training; and

4) the culture in the organisation does not support mentoring.

Any one or combination thereof will result in your mentoring efforts failing. I see, all too often, that the implementation of a mentoring programme is done as it is the ‘flavour of the month’. I also see that organisations implement a programme and then think that they are done: the programme will run on its own. That is most definitely not the case.

A mentoring programme or a mentoring culture requires care and feeding. It needs to be nurtured and it needs to be reviewed on an ongoing basis. I established an HR Mentoring Programme for two Provincial HR Associations and in each programme, what we do on an annual basis, is have the mentors and mentees evaluate the programme : what worked well, what didn’t, what we need to do differently and the take away’s from the programme that each realised.

Selection of mentors is a critical element to be considered. The matching process, whether done manually or through a software solution, needs to ensure that people being selected as mentors are going to be good at what they do. I hear too many bad stories of mentoring relationships gone bad which then turns people off of mentoring. That just saddens me as it can be prevented.

One of the complaints about mentor programmes is the lack of adequate training given to prepare the mentor for the role. Is there a structured approach to this training and what should organisations focus on when carrying out mentor programmes?

Doug: Obviously a structured approach is the best path to follow when you are looking at training. Depending on what you are looking to accomplish, you can look at two hour, four hour workshops or a more formal approach, that can result in a certification as a professional mentor.

You do need to choose wisely though as there are service providers who will claim to be accredited. The question that you need to ask is who they are accredited by. If accreditation is not an issue for you, then you have to make sure that they are addressing your outcomes. I have done a lot of research on this and obviously have some strong opinions on self-accreditation.

When you are implementing a mentoring programme, you need to make sure that training is part of that implementation and part of the ongoing maintenance of that programme. What we recommend is that everyone in the organisation needs some training to understand the concepts and the fundamentals of mentoring. That can be accomplished through the two or four hour workshops or you may wish to provide them with a full day of training.

You need to identify champions/advocates within the organisation and provide these employees with advanced training. They could be employees that you invest in and have certified as professional mentors.

I would recommend that the mentor programme, especially at the advanced level, be a combination of academic and practical experience. In the programmes that we offer, a consistent comment that we hear, is that “we did not realise there was this much to mentoring.”

Two things you touch on when discussing mentoring is Active Listening and Mental imagery/Visualisation. Are these critical skills and can you tell us more about what it entails?

Doug:  What I have found in being a successful mentor is the ability to use my Active Listening skills in any conversation that I am having. This is a skill that will serve you well in your personal and professional life.

Active listening consists of two parts: listening to what the other person is saying and actually hearing what they are saying. All too often, people listen but they are already formulating their response or allow their mind to side-track them and then only catch bits and pieces of the conversation.

This is a skill that requires a lot of work.

There are a small minority of people that can actually manage multiple conversations at once. What we teach in our mentor training programme is active listening which includes listening for trigger words in the conversation. Those trigger words will lay the foundation for where you need to take the conversation next. You need to listen for deflections away from a topic – perhaps the mentee is not quite ready to talk about that particular situation at that moment. It could be that you have not developed a strong enough trusted relationship for them to want to share or it could still be an open wound that they cannot talk about freely.

One of the things that I did when I was in a leadership role was to prepare my team for meetings using mental imagery/visualisation. I had some very intelligent young professionals who would be meeting with some very senior people and that can be somewhat intimidating.

It doesn’t have to be though as long as you go to the meeting prepared. I would have them visualise the meeting taking place, what some of the conversations might be and what their response would be. I had them imagine as many different angles to the conversation as they could and to prepare responses for those situations. What this did was teach them the art of thinking on their feet. People that I worked with became very adept at thinking on their feet – it was an acquired skill. It is a skill that serves us well when we are mentoring someone.

Active listening and the use of mental imagery/visualisation are skills that a successful mentor must have. There is a great book that demonstrates this in the business world by Thomas Stirr – it is called Miller’s Bolt and is well worth the read.

Language, and in particular, our choice of words can make or break communication and this is especially easy to see when we use ‘We’ as opposed to ‘You’ and ‘I’ in discussions with our mentee. It is an excellent way of positioning yourself as mentor, preventing the mentee from going on the defensive and focusing on solving the issue at hand. Do you agree?

Doug:  I would agree. Anytime that you can position a conversation in a collaborative manner you avoid creating a conflict situation. I  work with an organisation that creates opportunities for at risk youth to complete their education and to become meaningful contributors to society. They have an awesome mentor programme and I, along with some other wonderful people, assist them in mentoring these inspiring young people.

One of the things that I could see in conversations with them is that if I framed our discussions,  posing questions using ‘we’ or ‘us’, it seemed to put them more at ease than if I were to frame those same statements in a ‘you’ or ‘I’ context. If you use the ‘I’ context, you assume accountability for the outcome and that is not the desired outcome in a mentoring relationship.

We recommend the use of the Socratic Method where you frame things in the context of a question. For example, “What would happen if we were to do XXXX?” In this situation, I have provided a possible answer to a problem and now I want them to think of the outcomes. I am challenging them to use their critical thinking skills. I have also used the ‘we’ context.

If we were to say, “what do we need to do to resolve this?” and then build on that statement with additional questions, driven by our mentee’s response, we are creating a safe environment for them to think and we are not providing the answers. The Socratic Method is a transferable skill that can be used in the workplace and in your personal life.

Doug Lawrence is an International Certified Mentor Practitioner and International Certified Mentor Facilitator. Founder of TalentC, a Human Resources solution provider, he was a member of the Board of Directors for the Saskatchewan Association of Human Resource Professionals. He assisted the University of Regina in the launch of the Hill School of Business Mentor Programme. Doug was also a member of the Advisory Board for and was also instrumental in developing a curriculum to train people on how to become effective mentors which has been accredited by a third party. His company was recently ranked 3rd in the International Partner and Provider category at the 2015 Leadership 500 Excellence Awards. Doug is the President of the Board of Directors for the ICM Society and a Vertical Distinct columnist on leadership and mentoring.

(photo credit Vladimir'

Author: Rowena Morais

​The HR Gazette's media partner, Vertical Distinct, provides the resources you need to develop your professional abilities and career to the fullest in either HR or Technology including articles and podcasts, white papers, and the latest surveys and reports. Rowena Morais is the Editor of An entrepreneur and blogger, she has a passion for HR and Technology. You can connect with her on LinkedIn, Google+ or Twitter. ]

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