Boston Broadside
November/December 2001
Vol. 59,  No. 2
    Newsletter of the Boston Chapter of the Society for Technical Communication


Copyright © STC Boston 2001

Leading the Way

Mentoring: A Gentle Alliance

By J. Suzanna Laurent

Mentors. Role models. Idols. Call them what you like. Chances are very good that one of them has impacted your life with such tremendous force the reverberations of that influence affect the decisions you make to this day. Perhaps it was a

  • Demanding coach who always knew precisely which words would most encourage you.
  • Favorite teacher who pumped a genuine love of learning into your heart.
  • Devoted parent who not only spoke of virtues, but modeled them as well.
  • Nurturing manager who offered you the gift of shared wisdom.

The pool of available mentors is made up of a diverse group of individuals. One common interest that unites them, however, is a desire to help their protègès reach their full potential. Successful people report that a large part of their success is due to the experience they gain through working with a mentor. Many of these mentoring relationships are informal--in fact, the mentor sometimes is unaware that he or she is fulfilling that role.

The mentor relationship has been called the "pinnacle of work relationships." A mentor is more than a peer, more than a coach, even more than a sponsor. Mentors typically have influence within the organization or community. They use this influence to empower their protègès. The mentor relationship is really a partnership--the mentor provides guidance and opportunities, the protègè provides energy and a fresh perspective. Most effective mentor relationships vary in terms of length and degree of formality. They are initiated by the protègè. These relationships are true partnerships in which both parties contribute. They involve a mentor who has influence within the organization or community and is willing to use this influence to empower his or her protègè. These are the specific behaviors that mentors should practice:

  • An effective mentor helps protègès think in terms of success. You can do this by holding visioning and goal-setting sessions with them.
  • Counsel protègès when they have problems. Guide protègès through the thought processes necessary for developing their own solutions; don't solve their problems for them.
  • Provide feedback. Tell protègès how they are doing. When negative feedback is necessary, don't preach or be overly critical. Instead, ask insightful questions such as "What could you do differently the next time?" or "Why don't you think the project turned out as planned?"
  • Provide information. Mentors should serve as informational resources. Success secrets, short cuts, information about office politics, etc., will help protègès learn the ropes.
  • Delegate authority and express confidence in the ability of protègès to take on new tasks. A protègè's greatest need is for experience. Look for ways that will help protègès practice new skills.
  • Encourage exploration. Give your protègès as many opportunities to experiment with new ideas as possible, but don't be surprised if you learn something from them.
  • Look for opportunities to showcase your protègè's talents. Place your protègès in positions where they can meet people who can help them meet their goals. Networking events are great for this.

It may sound as though the mentor-protègè relationship requires a great deal of involvement on your part--that's because it does. Many chapters already have formal mentoring programs because STC provides great opportunities for mentoring. Take advantage of STC membership by building a "gentle alliance" with another member who would benefit from your knowledge--you will both benefit from the experience.

J. Suzanna Laurent is the Director-Sponsor for Region 5.