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Transcript: Why you need more than one mentor

One mentor is great, more is better.


KARL MOORE – This is Karl Moore of the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University with Talking Management for The Globe and Mail. I am delighted today to talk to Suzanne De Janasz from IMD in Switzerland.

Suzanne, you have been looking at mentoring but in a very different context. Tell us about that.

SUZANNE DE JANASZ – As you may know Karl, mentoring has been around since the days of the Greeks. Odysseus entrusted his son to the goddess Mentor and she helped him and guided him and supported him when his dad wasn't around fighting wars and grabbing land.

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So the concept of an older more experienced person taking a younger less experienced person under her wing and showing them the ropes, this has been around for a long time and organizations have taken hold of this as well. There has been a proliferation of mentoring programs inside or organizations where women, people of colour, members of under-represented groups, high-potentials are matched up with more senior people in the organization.

That has its pluses and minuses, but what I will say in general, without going through all the research, is that we know that people who are mentored move more quickly through the ranks in the organization, they are more satisfied, and in general they are more successful in their careers, and the mentors benefit as well. They are revitalized, they are thought of as people who have something to share and it is nice to be asked, and the organizations benefit as well. There is a socialization piece that whenever I ask my groups of students about, "Well, how many of you have read the employee manual from cover to cover?" Of course none, right? So how you learn how the organization works beyond what the organization chart says, this is really where mentoring can be very helpful.

KARL MOORE – How do I find a mentor?

SUZANNE DE JANASZ – So, one thing Karl that I'd like to clarify is that mentoring comes in two basic categories – formal and informal. You and I might well be informal mentor and mentee to one another because we met at a conference, we exchanged business cards, we had lunch together, and we stay in touch via e-mail and the occasional conference. So that kind of process is really, I don't even call selection but it's organic – we come together, we have similar interests, similar values, we might have gone to the same school together, and so those relationships are not so much about selecting or having an HR person select for you. So in terms of I'm a mentee, otherwise known as a protege, who should I pick? The answer to the question is which people should you pick. Because the one thing we know is that one is good, but more is better.

The nature of our jobs today has become so complex, so changing, that even someone coming out of a four-year degree program, for example, by the time he or she begins his work half of what he has learned is already obsolete. So how do I deal with virtual employees? How do I deal with customers whose ethics in their country are different than mine? So we are hit all day long with the kinds of challenges that we couldn't possible know. Even if you have the smartest mentor in the world in your back pocket, he doesn't know everything either. So more is better than fewer because of the kinds of challenges we have and we don't necessarily spend six hours a month with one, for example, but it varies over time with the challenges we have.

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