I recently invited one of my mentees to come with me to a TV appearance. She was looking to break into broadcasting and I thought this was a perfect occasion for her to meet the show’s producer, the anchor and the news director. We met first for coffee and chatted briefly about her ongoing career exploration, and then we headed to the studio, where she also had the opportunity to meet the two executive women who were joining me for a round table.
While my co-panelists and I recorded the interview, the young woman spent some time talking to the news director and the producer about opportunities in the media. She asked lots of questions and got some focused guidance. I call this “mentoring on the go.”
For the new generation of young professionals entering the workforce, the value of having mentors cannot be overstated. But often in the Latino community, it’s hard to come by executives or prominent leaders who are available to mentor others—mainly because given the relatively small number of Latinos in the executive ranks, they receive a disproportionate number of requests to mentor other Latinos.
As a community, however, we are faced with a great need for increased mentorship of our youth and our mid-career professionals if we are to claim the leadership roles, which is so critical to making our growing numbers count. So it’s time for all of us to step up as mentors. Naturally, the number of mentees you can help will vary depending on the level of responsibility you already have. You may be able to take on three to five people at a time, or you may be able to focus on only one. But whether you’re mentoring one person or five, the question is: How can you mentor effectively without this worthy activity impinging on your own career?
Begin by identifying high-potential candidates: people who are honest about seeking help and who want to help themselves. People willing to work hard, set goals, follow through with any task you assign to them regarding their professional or personal development, and put as much time and effort into the relationship as you will. This usually involves students and young professionals who are interested in a mutually beneficial relationship—individuals who value your input, time and expertise and are willing to reciprocate with their own experience in areas where you could use help. (Learning to use social media, anyone?) In many companies, this is called “reverse mentoring.”
The next step is to find out as much as you can about your mentees’ goals, dreams, education, and the sector or company of their interest. You need to have a thorough fact-finding conversation so that you have a clear picture of how and when to involve them in your daily activities.
The third step is to invite your mentees to job-shadow you for a day or a week; to support the work you do with non-profit organizations; and to bring them to special events, meetings, conferences, and other activities you attend.
The advantage of this strategy is that you can still offer one-on-one attention to your mentees while you expose them to key contacts and valuable experiences. You have a chance to see them in action and provide immediate feedback during a debriefing session after each event. Often, you can sign up some of the contacts to which you introduce your mentees at these activities to help address specific issues with them, just as the news director and producer did with the young woman of my story. This additional help contributes to two positive outcomes: mentees receive sound advice from experts you trust while at the same time, they expand their network.
In terms of the mentoring experience, it feels more real, dynamic and reciprocal, which I find more valuable and sustainable for both parties involved. In addition, it is much more time-efficient than scheduling individual meetings and phone calls with a number of mentees.
As leaders in our respective fields it is our collective responsibility to help train the next generation of leaders. Closing your door to those seeking your help using the argument that you barely have time to go to a conference for your own personal development, much less to mentor several people, won’t cut it. Finding a strategy that allows you to mentor high potentials and attend that conference, priceless.
Mariela Dabbah, is CEO of www.latinosincollege.com and award-winning author. Her new book, "El Poder de la Mujer" (Women Power) will be released March, 2012 by Penguin. Follow her on TWITTER: marieladabbah and Facebook: Mariela Dabbah
Mariela Dabbah is a published author and founder of Latinos in College, a not-for-profit organization, and of the Red Shoe Movement, an initiative that invites women to wear red shoes to work on Tuesday to signal their support for other women’s careers.