For this installment of Ask An Influencer, MxD interviews longtime mentor and mentee Barry Chapman, vice president of Aerospace and Defense, Federal, and Marine Industries, Siemens Digital Industries Software. Research shows that only about a third of workers have a mentor, with more than 60 percent of women in another study saying they have never had a formal mentor.
Who needs a mentor and why become one?
The Short Answer
Everybody should have a mentor. Whether they are in their 20s just starting in the workplace, or in their 50s, looking to reach the next level of leadership. If there’s not a formal program at your organization and you want a mentor, ask someone you admire or want to emulate or who has a skillset that you can learn from to be your mentor. Nine times out of 10, they’ll say yes.
Being a mentor does take time. But it’s important to help develop individuals in your organization, so you have to allocate the time to be a mentor. Mentoring is not about rigid definitions or structures or the gender or age or seniority level of the person you are mentoring. The most important thing is understanding where the mentee is today and where they want to go.
The Long Answer
In life, everybody should have a mentor, someone who provides guidance and advice. I’ve always had a mentor. Informally, it could be your mother or father or a coach, even someone you ride bikes with on the weekend. It’s someone to go to. Formally, you want a mentor you can go to for help advancing your career or skills. Mentoring is not about rigid definitions or structures or the gender or age or seniority level of the person you are mentoring.
For example, I’ve mentored a man in his 20s for the past year. He’s just getting into the workplace, and it was good for me and good for him because I got to hear about the concerns and questions of a new generation. I also mentor a top Siemens executive in another country. She came from outside of Siemens so this mentorship is about getting her introduced to the organization and having someone to talk to, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. There’s been so much lockdown.
In another case, when one of our employees went into a sales role from a predominantly engineering/technical role, a mentorship was critical because she needed to develop skills. And I have mentored individuals who are my age (53) or older who are looking to take their career to the next level.
At Siemens, we’ve had mentorship programs for a long time. But the company’s formalization of mentorship over the past five years or so has been really powerful. We’ve acquired a lot of companies, so culture is a big challenge and mentorships help with that. People see the value in mentorships and then all of a sudden we’re at the point right now where I can’t take on another mentee. If you get up to three or four mentees, that’s a lot. You don’t want to overload yourself. You have to remember, you do have a day job.
If there’s not a formal program at your organization and you want a mentor, ask someone you admire or want to emulate or who has a skillset that you can learn from to be your mentor. Nine times out of 10, they’ll say yes.
Being a mentor does take time. But you have to help develop individuals in your organization, so you have to allocate the time to be a mentor.
I leave it up to the person I’m mentoring to set the pace of how often to meet. Most do monthly. Some quarterly. Some people just want to get on the phone and talk. Some people want a very structured mentorship. So, for example, when there’s a behavior a mentee and I decide to focus on, such as executive presence or financial skills, I will share articles or give the mentee tasks that they may spend hours on.
One example is a mentee I had who needed to work on executive presence. I sent him articles but then I gave him tasks. I said: “For the next 30 days, just focus on one item. So when you are in a meeting, focus on your posture or focus on your voice. And then 30 days from now we’ll see what you learned and how you improved.” Mentorship relationships where we’re focused on a particular developmental behavior are the ones that seem to be more impactful.
Historically, industries like aerospace, defense, engineering and manufacturing are predominantly more male, so there are more men mentoring women. But I haven’t made any decisions on who I want to mentor, or be mentored by, based upon whether it’s a woman or a man. It’s about the best fit.
Some mentorships don’t work. If the mentee doesn’t allocate the time for it, they might not see the value. If there’s a problem, just put the mirror up, look at yourself first and figure out if there is something you — the mentor — are doing wrong. If it’s not me, and it’s not that important to the mentee, I’m not going to push it.
When it works, you have to do whatever’s necessary for that individual, whether that’s focusing on career or skillset development, providing direction, or providing connections.
A mentor is a guide, and as a guide you want the people that you’re guiding to have a safe route to the top of their mountain.
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