Ten Guiding Principles to Being the Mentor Your Organization Needs

April 3, 2017 Posted by Greg Finch

Leaders and mentors take various forms in our lives—parents, relatives, teachers, coaches, and maybe bosses. Leaders practice their authority because it brings their causes, companies, or themselves greater value. Mentors, on the other hand, seek to transfer his or her wisdom to encourage the success of others.

Leaders are not always good mentors but mentors are almost always good leaders. A leader provides instructions within the construct of specific work activities while a mentor provides guidance based on experience—transcending work activity into a philosophy of doing.

Working for a leader, you are told what to do and with a mentor, you discover what you can do. Everyone needs both to succeed because experience remains the greatest teacher while education remains the greatest catalyst for more learning.

The best mentor I have ever had is a gentleman I will call “Mike.” Mike faced seemingly insurmountable barriers in both his personal and professional worlds, but overcame them all by transitioning from a leader to a mentor. As a leader, Mike commanded a vast army of professionals and by the virtue of his authority, could inspire many people to act. But by becoming a mentor, Mike persuaded people to think and act on their own by sharing the wisdom he gained from a career of leadership.

I worked for Mike as he began his last decade of employment. Mike had risen to the C-level of national organizations through the power of his leadership, commitment and work ethic. He was brought in to our company to help unite disparate work cultures, each with multiple agendas. About a month after Mike started at our company, he sent a meeting notice to his direct reports that we would all participate in an off-site, one day ‘Leadership Forum’ the very next day. Nothing more was offered. We all scrambled to get the information we were going to present to the new boss and substantiate our leadership responsibilities because that was what previous leaders told us to do.

We arrived the next morning armed with thumb drives of presentations and reams of paper only to have Mike kick-off the meeting telling us to leave our ‘stuff’ on the table and move to an adjoining room. There we found a dozen chairs arranged in a semi-circle. We all sat down, Mike facing us, as he said, “You are all responsible for different areas of this company. In the past month, I have seen all of you lead people but I haven’t seen any of you teach people anything. I am going to help you move from telling people what to do by giving them the tools to think for themselves.”

Mike pulled out a worn sheet of paper from his pocket, unfolded it, and simply read:

Ten Guiding Principles:

  1. Teamwork / Teamwork / Teamwork
  2. Integrity in all things
  3. Focus on the top 3 or 4 projects
  4. Act with a sense of urgency
  5. Err on the side of action
  6. Communicate / Communicate / Communicate
  7. Involve management in all significant decisions
  8. Lead by example
  9. Good news can wait—communicate bad news immediately
  10. Spend the company’s money like it was your own

We spent the rest of the day discussing what Mike’s Ten Principles meant to each of us and to our areas of responsibility. At the end of the meeting, Mike told us we were all responsible for teaching these principles as mentors and not leaders. We were not allowed to call a team meeting, throw up a 20-slide PowerPoint or draft a long-winded email to communicate. Mentoring is done in person. (I can still hear Mike saying, “Put down your BlackBerry, back away from the keyboard, and go talk to people!”)

Mike assured us that by mentoring our direct reports personally (and by asking them to mentor their teams), these principles would gradually permeate the organization and impact culture in a positive way.

It took a few months but it worked. Mike transformed us so-called leaders into mentors responsible for advising others on basic principles of engagement. A culture of shared responsibility and accountability began to evolve and when Mike went on to his next challenge, the culture lived on.

Mike’s words are the first thing I tack to the wall of every office I have inhabited—and the first thing I share with everyone for whom I am responsible.

So, what can a company of mentors, not just leaders, offer your organization? Everything! A company of mentor’s care about not only their own employees but yours as well. They work to deliver results while allowing you to put your trust in them to handle any obstacle.

The staffing and consulting industry is all about people. SmartIT provides the people you need to get the best results possible. When people are involved in problem-solving, great leadership and mentorship make all the difference.

As a company, SmartIT mentors people through the interactions between our recruiters and account executives. Our recruiters are the mentors for candidates. They make sure a potential employee feels comfortable for an interview and that they are happy with a position and company they could be working for. SmartIT recruiters also help candidates understand the specific aspects of the job they are trying to fill. Recruiters strive to teach candidates the skills needed to outperform others in interviews and land their desired position. Our account executives are the mentors for our clients.  They work to understand the underlying business pain and maximize resources to meet client needs.  Clients walk away from a project understanding exactly what is needed to solve the problem and the resources SmartIT can bring to add additional value.

About the Author:

Greg Finch is a Client Services Director at SmartIT. Greg brings more than 25 years of IT strategic, tactical and operational consulting and delivery experience to each engagement where business opportunity drives technology solutions.