Three elements that unlock the value of adopting a mentor-mentor approach

23 June 2021

“What is more, I think the best mentor relationships are actually mentor-mentor relationships, where both parties show up to learn. Even if there is a different dynamic in terms of hierarchy, there are still some things that the senior person can learn from the junior person.” ~ Simon Sinek 

Witnessing the cultivation process of lasting change unfolding in many modern organisations is something that we treasure at our practice. Experience has taught us that to effectively facilitate change on organisational level, leadership of organisations would need to gently nurture this change. Let’s think of change as a hearty stew on an open fire.

The fire needs to be meticulously stoked while the ingredients you feed into the broth cook slowly but surely into a thick and enjoyable winter stew – often it leaves you standing in line for seconds. It’s at that point where the chef knows he/she has done a great job. 

It is the same when leaders of organisations view the change journey in this way. In our experience as change facilitators, we have learnt to place significant emphasis on a mentorship approach as a way to stoke this proverbial fire. 

There is much to be gained from the reciprocity of a mentor-mentor relationship, which brings us back to the aptness of Simon Sinek’s words above. 
Due to the nature of our work, consultants have the privilege of working with a melting pot of talent and experience – leaders and employees from different walks of life, different fields of expertise and different schools of thought. 

Three elements in particular illustrate the richness that this proverbial ‘stew recipe’ can potentially impart when applying a mutually beneficial mentor-mentor relationship – one where the acts and results of learning and improving are valued all around. It is a well-loved recipe, but as with any good stew, the ingredients are interchangeable and the method by no means a one-size-fits-all. 

1. Continuous learning

We do not categorise ourselves as the ‘ultimate experts’, nor do we wish to be. Instead, we subscribe to the mentorship approach of continuous learning – of being open-minded and receptive of what clients and the team bring to the table.

This approach especially resonates with clients who have decades of experience in their field, especially, when the consultant is younger than the client. Respecting and acknowledging different perspectives provides an opportunity for a depth of knowledge to be shared with the consultant. 

For example, an approach that is far more respectful of the client’s experience is to state upfront that we do not have the client’s years of experience or depth of industry knowledge, but that we are able to contribute one or two useful new concepts to ‘soundboard’. They have walked the walk in their respective industries, so to speak. Therefore, to service their organisation’s needs sufficiently our team continually draws from the innate knowledge clients have.

2.    The building blocks of a relationship

Building any relationship requires an investment of time and trust something that has been made increasingly difficult with the rising use of virtual collaboration tools and physical distancing.

Think of how virtual collaborations have tended to be more clinical and to-the-point. It often leaves no gap for otherwise natural interactions that often lay the groundwork of the trust. These elements – positive relationships, good judgement and consistency – that Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman explore in their Harvard Business Review article need to be cultivated much more proactively in a virtual collaboration setting. 

The value lies in being proactive – and to some extent creative – with the way in which this time and trust investment is allocated. In some ways, building relationships that are open to a mentor-mentor approach have required more time than it otherwise would, but the results of this investment have proven to be invaluable, and long-lasting.

For example, being pro-active about building positive relationships has meant budgeting additional time for conversations that build deeper personal trust during online meetings. We have found that scheduling specific times for casual conversation with both our clients and our team works well to thicken our broth to a beautiful and rich consistency.

3. Inclusive leadership

Kathryn Dill, in her Wall Street Journal piece, illustrates an important shift in the way management and mentorship have changed. The traditional manager has always been someone who excelled at what they did, climbed the ranks and now teaches the tricks of the trade to their teams.
However, technological advances and automation in the workplace is responsible for constant rates of change that necessitates constant upskilling and adaptation. 

According to our experience, not everyone wants to be a manager in their area of expertise, but that does not devalue their expertise and contribution to their role. As a result, we’ve witnessed an interesting split - younger managers are often empowered with managerial responsibilities to lead a team that is older than they are. Why? Because they may possess significant technical skills that they have gained in their professional experience. 

The responsibility rests on managers to lead by a facilitator and mentor approach rather than someone who dictates and micromanages. Here, the inclusive approach has served us well, both when working with clients and within our internal team.

For example, planning a project and setting a deadline inclusively allows the individual with technical experience to advise how much time they need to deliver meaningful and quality work. The result is a mutual understanding and respect for each other’s domain between generalist and specialist, signaling trust and inclusivity.

This approach not only adds great value to our organisational culture, but it also allows us to better understand and service our clients. In short, this recipe with its rich and hearty flavours, has us coming back for many rounds. Why? Because we are truly motivated by the deep relationships we build along the way and the resulting personal and professional growth.

The aim of mentorship is ultimately to open up a long-lasting path, characterised by unlocked potential and a learning curve that is unending, whether in a client relationship or between colleagues.