They Got Fired! Would Mentoring Have Saved Them?

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Written by Julie Kantor and Delia Borbone

Today our team sat in the ‘war room’ of Twomentor’s global headquarters (that means, a single office in Bethesda with three summer associates, a consultant and a very fatigued White Havanese pup named Naomi). One of our team members brought to our attention a Inc. magazine article by Alison Green of an unusual and saddening summer internship circumstance. A group of interns did not understand the strict dress code of the company they were working for and decided to submit a proposal asking for minor modifications in the dress code. The company responded by holding a meeting, where all the interns who signed the proposal were terminated.

We scoured through the comments and there were interesting debates on corporate culture, etiquette, and who was the party to blame. But we realized that bottom line, our Millennial and Generation Z workforce are coming to us to learn and be mentored so we want to equip you with 8 recommendations on being an effective mentor:

1] Listen- To be a successful mentor, you must be an attentive listener. This shows that you are genuinely interested in what is going on in your mentee’s life. Listen closely to gain a better understanding of where he/she is coming from, and to help you advise them appropriately. Find out what your mentee knows and what her/his blindspots might be as a newcomer in the working world.

2] Balanced- A mentee comes to you to share news, to ask for advice and opinions, and sometimes to let out their frustrations. Your job is not to agree with everything your mentee says, but to help him/her think rationally about situations and approach them from a level headed perspective. Perhaps an internal mentor would have advised the interns not to develop a signed petition with a greater enlightenment of the corporate culture (we write as we stand here in flip flops and jeans- just kidding!)

3] Trust- Your mentee is going to come to you with all sorts of things, some of which may be personal or things they don’t want shared with others. He/she is telling you this because they trust you and value your advice. This is a great honor. It is imperative to keep conversations confidential and not break your mentee’s trust, unless it is a violation of HR policies or could cause real harm to the individual/company.

4] Be Open and Try Not to Judge- Mentoring requires a willingness to share about your own experiences that relate to your mentee’s queries, and be able to give thoughtful advice. Better yet, if you can lead your mentee to finding his/her own conclusions through your stories. The more open and authentic you are, the more open to sharing your mentee will be as well. You also must be open-minded. Unexpected conversations and situations are very likely, however you are here to help and advise, not judge.

5] Availability- Mentoring is a time commitment, and regular meetings are crucial in developing a good relationship. No matter how much you like your mentee, if you don’t have the time for them it is best to let them know and help them find a different mentor who can devote more time. We move into an era of skills-based mentoring as older generations are learning to pass the baton and embrace reverse mentoring in the workplace.

6] Model- You are being watched. “Just while observing you, mentees pick up many things: ethics, values and standards; style, beliefs and attitudes; methods and procedures. They are likely to follow your lead, adapt your approach to their own style, and build confidence through their affiliation with you. As a mentor, you need to be keenly aware of your own behavior.” (E. Wayne Hart, Forbes.com)

7] Honesty- “If you’re brave enough to ask your mentor for advice, he or she needs to be brave enough to give you a straight answer. If you’re contemplating taking a new job, for instance, and you explain the situation and ask for your mentor’s point of view – he or she should give it to you, unvarnished.” (Erika Andersen, Forbes.com)

8] Goal Oriented- “A good mentor continually sets a good example by showing how his/her personal habits are reflected by personal and professional goals and overall personal success.” (Franchise Growth Partners)

Both the interns and the managers of the company might have approached this situation differently, and ideally with a mentoring lens. Anyone who brings on an intern is onboarding our future workforce and taking the extra steps is often the difference between success and failure (see articles ‘Ready to Go the Extra Mile for Your Interns and ‘Interning With Your Best Foot Forward’). Despite the unfortunate outcome for the interns and company, we know this is a learning opportunity for all involved and all readers. We sincerely hope that they will land well next summer if not sooner with a new viable opportunity.

Twomentor, LLC, is a management consulting firm that provides mentor training, strategy, flash mentoring sessions and global speaking to elevate women and better retain Millennials in the workforce. We believe in mentoring cultures.

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