Mentoring is essentially dead. So, now what?

I think the concept of ‘making an impact for other people’ — or having influence, or getting people to listen to you — are ideas that we sometimes reserve for professors, or authors, or ‘thought leaders,’ or CEOs, or motivators. In fact, these concepts should be front-and-center in our lives — no matter who we are — day-in and day-out. I don’t care if you’ve never volunteered a millisecond of your life and utterly despise people; because human beings are social animals, you’re going to hit a point where you need to make an impact for someone else, or someone else will make an impact on you.

The next logical question is: how does that happen?

Obviously it takes a lot of forms, but mentoring is a concept I want to explore here. I’ve written about mentoring a few times before — this post about how mentoring isn’t the same thing as managing, and this post about how the whole concept of mentorship may be dead. This is a big deal for me. I feel like I’ve had people who have influenced me, yes, but I’ve never had any kind of “mentor,” no — and definitely not in the business context. My career, and professional arc, might be a little bit further along if I had. (Well, maybe.)

So, how do you make an impact for other people in a mentoring capacity then?

12 Ways To Make A Mentoring Impact

I started with this Hubspot blog post on ’12 Ways To Make A Positive Impact On Others.’ Quick side note: Hubspot is a good example of a brand that often writes off-brand — i.e. what they’re selling is a content strategy and a CRM, not some motivational fluff about mentoring — and yet, it makes sense. Most mid-level managers would screech about “brand impact” as opposed to realizing the impact of a good ‘how to win friends and influence people’ post. Hubspot seems to ‘get it.’

Anyway, here are the 12 ways they list:

  • Approach each mentorship differently
  • Set expectations jointly
  • Take a genuine interest in the mentee as a person
  • Know when to wait before giving advice
  • Approve your emotional intelligence
  • Don’t assume; ask
  • Be forthcoming about your own mistakes
  • Praise their accomplishments
  • Give more than you ask for
  • Seek out projects around skills they want to develop
  • Solve for the long-term
  • Lead by example

That’s a very good list, IMHO. In a personal context, all these can be successful. It seems a bit overwhelming to achieve this many things as regards another person, but in reality you do all these things with most of your good friends and relationships anyway.

In a work context, it’s a little different. I would say these ones out of the above are hard for many employees and organizations to achieve:

  • Setting expectations jointly (They often are top-down)
  • Genuine interest (Many managers want you to just hit targets)
  • Know when to wait/advice (People confuse ‘accountability’ with ‘fear’)
  • Emotional intelligence (Not often valued in workplaces)
  • Don’t assume (This rule is broken every minute in many places)
  • Be forthcoming about mistakes (Office cultures are almost never transparent around failure)
  • Give more than you ask for (You usually can stop doing this as you rise up a chain)
  • Seek out projects around skills people want to develop (This would imply you’ve prioritized training; many orgs don’t)
  • Solve for the long-term (Short-term gains are the crux of most businesses)
  • Lead by example (LOL)

So … most of these mentorship concepts seem to not exist in a good percentage of workplaces.

Why Is Mentorship Hard At Work?

I’d argue a few points here, quickly:

  • Temple of Busy: Everyone believes they are go-go-go and so so so much to do. Who has time to take someone under their wing, then?
  • Different generations: I don’t like generalizing about generations where I can avoid it, but I think there’s a distrust — just like there was between Silents and Boomers — over the priorities and goals of the youngest generation currently in the workforce, and that may be impeding mentorship deals.
  • Relationships being valued less than revenue: Relationships are everything in business and ultimately they drive revenue, but because of the Temple of Busy culture referenced above, people are afraid to commit to a new relationship unless they see an immediate benefit. We’ve gotten to a place where people view workplace connection as akin to a sales cycle w/ROI calculator, and that’s not ideal.
  • What can be taught? We’ve hit a spot where daily tasks > strategy and long-term vision, so maybe some older leaders are wondering what they can teach down the chain. How to do a P&L? Shouldn’t the young buck already know that?
  • What’s in it for each side? People want some idea of value before entering into anything. At work, most value is around “My boss says so” or “Someone is claiming it’s an organizational priority” or “I might get more money or perks because of this.” (Each model has pros and cons.) If the value of a mentorship or relationship isn’t clearly defined upfront, people will be less interested.

How Can We Create Stronger Bonds And Mentorships At Work?

I think it starts with two central concepts:

  • Understanding why it’s valuable
  • Modeling why it’s important

In terms of understanding why it’s valuable, there is documented research on social capital at work and the power of friends at work. So we’ve done some background there.

In terms of modeling why it’s important, unfortunately this does begin with senior leadership. Many companies are ‘Monkey See, Monkey Do.’ This isn’t necessarily a bad thing — it gets people in line and focused on production. But if the ‘Monkey See’ aspect is all people breathlessly analyze growth and revenue, then we believe that’s all that matters. People, and things like human connection? They become less important. That’s bad, because remember — your products and processes might make you money, but your people still matter.

So really we need this double whammy:

  • Mentorships and relationships are important because _______________.
  • I see _____________ examples of my leadership team showcasing this.

Those are the two building blocks for this — or, really anything — becoming a priority in a work context.

Is There Business ROI To Mentorships and Relationships?

Maybe not directly, but consider this:

Also consider this:

  • If you work at a place with a fixed leadership team and it’s not a bank with 50 VPs, growth potential (advancement for you) might be limited
  • People, though, want opportunities for growth at their jobs
  • If your boss or chain of command doesn’t want to expand your role or let you learn new things because they need you heads down on your current work…
  • … a mentor or strong relationship can be a way to learn some things you’re curious about outside your department or silo

This concepts here speak to respect and engagement, and while those concepts aren’t on a balance sheet — they’re still very important. If you think it’s horribly fluffy, well, I’m sorry. But think about it this way:

  • Happy customers drive your business growth.
  • Happy employees take care of your customers.
  • Happy employees, ergo, drives your business growth.

I know that’s a stretch for many old-school biz leaders to see, but it’s there. That’s why engagement issues became so en vogue in the last few years. It’s because we all know there is a tie to revenue, even if we can’t directly prove it. So we come into two camps:

  • “That’s fluffy crap! I got revenue targets to hit!”
  • “This seems important…”

The first camp is denying and trying to maintain the status quo, which is a common human response to any crisis. The second camp is thinking “something could be here…” which probably means they have a bit more curiosity and self-awareness. Again, both camps have pros and cons.

The ability to develop a culture of strong relationships and potential mentorships, though, lies at the heart of engagement. It’s definitely something your business needs to consider.


My name’s Ted Bauer; I blog here regularly and you can learn about hiring me for freelance and contract gigs as well. You can also subscribe to my newsletter.

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