“Why are these peonies not opening?” – Thoughts about workplace mentoring and succeeding in it
Do you have a vase with a few peonies from the local store, and you have been waiting for them to bloom, but the buds just dry out without ever opening? I’ve been there. I was doing some googling to solve this problem that has been plaguing my cut flowers. Using a little imagination, I realized that the care instructions were surprisingly universal. Believe it or not, taking care of flowers and workplace mentoring have a lot in common.
Make the right choice
“When buying bouquets, you should buy ones that have budding flowers. This way, you can enjoy the bouquet longer.”
Let’s start with a cliché: If there are no buds, don’t expect any miracles. When it comes to mentoring, learning and all other mental growth, it is important to have something to start with: An interest, a dream or even a clear goal.
Additionally, you should think about whether you grab the first flowers that you see or if you arrange your bouquet with more care. As an example, we at Valamis are currently organizing third round of our mentoring program. Each time, we have had an application process where the applicant must tell us why they would like to participate as a mentor or a mentee in our company’s mentoring program, which lasts almost a year. When the applicant has thoroughly thought about the topic, their motivation, and their commitment for the program before applying, it is easier to connect mentors with mentees. This also strengthens the commitment to the mentoring program in general. The applicant should think about the following questions, for example: What is my long-term career goal? What is my short-term development goal? Whose expertise can help me?
Make sure you have a warm growing environment
“The heat coming from a hairdryer is similar to the heat of the sun and will make the buds open.”
The basis of any successful mentoring relationship is a warm and trusting atmosphere: a cold atmosphere might nip mentoring motivation. The mentee is often responsible for mentoring meetings (unless the mentoring program is completely structured), which might sometimes require a gentle push in the right direction from at least the mentoring program’s organizer. The mentor’s attitude can also create warmth: a successful mentoring relationship requires that both parties feel safe and respected and that the mentor is fully present during the mentoring sessions. Flowers, as we all know, should also be refreshed, and much like refreshing flowers, mentoring meetings can be arranged outside the normal work environment.
Cut a new surface area for water uptake
“By cutting the stem, you get a new surface area for better water uptake. The pipes that conduct water near the old surface might already be almost clogged, so a new surface will make the flowers last longer.”
A mentor’s task is to support their mentee’s thinking. The mentor can do this by e.g. asking questions and by presenting challenges and different points of view to broaden the mentee’s thinking. The goal of mentoring is not to make anyone completely ready, but to support a person when they face new assignments and responsibilities and to help them think outside that ever so famous box. Getting stuck in a certain mindset and perspective rarely leads to new ideas or development. Similarly, a mentor can learn and get new ideas and perspectives through mentoring. A mentor can support the mentee’s learning by aiming to understand and see their point of view, by bringing up new perspectives and by asking questions that do not necessarily have one right answer. One of a mentor’s most important tasks is to listen and participate with an open mind.
Flowers have differences
If you want to see peonies bloom, you need to wait (sometimes until the bitter end), while tulips open up in the blink of an eye and happily drink all the water in their pot. By the same token, one discussion style does not suit every mentee and personality type, and every mentor has their own way of mentoring and sharing their skills. The mentor’s attitude and expectations, as well as their previous experiences and expertise, have a significant impact on what kind of journey the mentoring experience becomes and what the destination ends up being. The most important thing is that everyone takes full responsibility for their own learning – with the mentor’s support.
About flowers and mentoring
To finish this write-up, I would like to mention some observations that apply to mentoring but not peonies (never mind other cut flowers):
Before applying for mentoring, keep in mind that mentoring takes time and prioritizing skills. Why even begin if the mentor and mentee are not prepared to find time for their own development?
Create shared rules. Trust and openness are key factors in successful mentoring.
As the organizer of mentoring, aim to communicate with people and inform them about the application phase effectively. Collect feedback, monitor, and be sure to support mentors in particular. Furthermore, do not forget about active communication with the program’s participants during the program.
The mentee is not the only person who benefits from mentoring: the mentor can also learn and get new perspectives during the process.