By Karen L. Cates, PhD
Pairing a seasoned leader with a new or emerging manager, can result in a “student-teacher” relationship that is satisfying for both. Strong mentoring programs provide guidelines and structures to support mentors and mentees to drive organizational goals. When they work, these relationships can accelerate careers and improve organizational performance.
These relationships can hit obstacles, however. Mentors may not have the skills needed to mentor effectively. And mentees are not always open to the mentoring process or even to asking for help. A relationship that started with good intentions can fall to the wayside, a victim of neglect.
There is another way to mentor that has great upside potential for roofing professionals: peer-to-peer mentoring, where both people give advice and learn from each other. In these relationships, peers often share the same or similar type of job and can come from within or outside your organization. The key is to find a partner who is willing to meet regularly, give honest feedback, and share candidly. By building trust, peer mentors can share goals, dreams, ideals, roadblocks and opportunities. Peer-to-peer mentoring can also expand access to resources through your partner’s networks.
To get started, ask a potential peer mentor to lunch and share the concept with them. If they seem open to the idea of peer mentoring, suggest you talk about your career goals and what you have been doing so far to meet them. What has been working? What has been challenging? Through this initial conversation, you can mutually decide if you think a peer mentoring relationship might work. If there is a good fit and the conversation flows easily, suggest setting another lunch date in a month or two to talk about a specific goal or anticipated experience or event. Be sure that you set the next date at the end of every meeting to maintain momentum. And if it doesn’t feel quite right, you can tell the other person that you are still forming ideas about what peer mentoring will mean to you and that it was great to meet them. Leave the lunch on a positive note. At the least, you have just expanded your network.
If you want to take peer-to-peer mentoring to another level, consider setting up a group or “round table” of peers in the same job who work at different companies – or people in the same job in different industries (like estimators in area electrical, plumbing and mechanical firms). This is not to share company secrets. The idea is to simply broaden the peer mentoring network to share goals, what has been working and what has not with people who have a similar work experience to your own. Many industry leaders do this frequently, keeping a keen eye on confidentiality, but sharing the goals and challenges that face them in their leadership functions or roles. For complex issues, a round table of peers might even invite an expert to contribute an informed opinion about any number of topics like marketing, finance or law.
Peer mentors do not need to replace traditional ones. Often traditional mentors can give advice on how to make the most of a peer mentor relationship. Whether one-on-one or in a group, the key is to meet regularly, create a vision or topic for each meeting, and hold each other accountable for contributing to an energized conversation. That flow of ideas and support is certain to energize you, your job and ultimately your career.