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Leading by direction, not dictation: a new role for today's mentor. (Making Connections).

In 1993, Berthenia A. Harmon left a lucrative position she held for six years as an accounting specialist at a New Jersey insurance firm to pursue a career in education. While studying for a master's degree in early childhood education at Kean University in Union, New Jersey, Harmon sought guidance from her graduate coordinator, who noted that her corporate experience would be a boon to her ascent up the public school bureaucratic ladder. After two years as a second grade teacher in New Jersey's Elizabeth public school system and four years as a technology coordinator, she is now months shy of earning a second master's degree in education administration and supervision from St. Peter's College in Jersey City, New Jersey. Harmon anticipates landing a vice principle position this fall.

"She affirmed what I already knew: that I had the heart and mind for this," remarks Harmon, 35, of her university advisor. For many, the mentor-protege relationship, particularly in a corporate environment, is critical to confidence building as well as professional success.

It's the reason why men succeed more than women and whites succeed more than blacks, especially at higher levels, says Sheila Wellington, president of Catalyst, a professional women's research and advocacy organization, and author of Be Your Own Mentor: Strategies From Top Women on the Secrets of Success (Random House; $25.95). "Mentors are more important than hard work, talent, and intelligence," she says. Why? They help their proteges understand how to function within the workplace. Mentors provide clarity. They provide a playbook for the rules of a company. A mentor can also make significant recommendations on behalf of their proteges. But as important as this relationship is, it is even more important to understand how mentor/protege roles are changing.

The mentor-as-authoritarian model has evolved from "`sage on the stage' to the `guide on the side,'" says Lois Zachary, author of The Mentor's Guide: Facilitating Effective Learning Relationships (Jossey-Bass; $28). The protege "learns to share responsibility for [establishing] the learning setting [and] priorities and becomes increasingly self-directed."

Self-determination has become an important factor in today's mentor-mentee relationships, as the expectations of employees in the job market have changed.

"In today's world, you need to think of your career as a series of related or even unrelated jobs," says Wellington. "You should set your sights on mastering a succession of jobs that will allow you to grow, change, and succeed." The only way to successfully realize such growth, says Wellington, is to develop a plan. "Detailed plans with specific time frames help the most," she says. Wellington suggests taking the following steps:

* Starting out. Here is where you ask the questions that pertain to your personal and professional goals. What do you enjoy? What are your motivations? What are your talents? What successes have you enjoyed thus far?

* Are you qualified? At this level it is important to determine the requirements of your company and whether your qualifications meet its expectations.

* Do you need an advanced degree? Is an advanced degree necessary for your career goals? Will it help you advance? Can you afford to stop or interrupt your work schedule in pursuit of another degree?

* Is it time to move on? This is the perfect time to reassess your career goals and personal aspirations. Do they mesh or are they conflicting? What criteria are you now using to measure success?

In other words, the successful protege is actively and ultimately responsible for the direction and progression of his or her career, even to the point of knowing when to graciously say "thanks, but no thanks" to advice that doesn't gel with career goals or interests. Mentors are not infallible, offers Wellington. Because the relationship is between two people, there is no one to edit information that could be wrong, outdated, or just not palatable.

Marques T. Crump, a computer programmer and multimedia Web designer, learned this lesson while completing an 18-month, less-than-fulfilling project assignment at Harley Davidson in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin. "The work I was doing wasn't challenging. It wasn't a bad experience--it was just boring," says Crump, 27, who holds a bachelor's degree in information systems from Oklahoma Christian University in Oklahoma City.

Eight months into the project, Crump's manager-mentor transferred to another Harley site in York, Pennsylvania, and tried to persuade him to transfer. He respectfully declined. "I wasn't about to relocate to do work that I knew would be unfulfilling," he says. When his assignment ended in November 2002, Crump began a new career as a financial service representative for Primerica, a subsidiary of financial services giant Citigroup.
From Sage on the Stage to Guide on the Side

Zachary offers a snapshot of how components
of the mentor-protege relationship have changed:

Relationship Element Paradigm Shift

Protege Role From: Passive receiver, often chosen by a
 senior-level professional who has
 developed an affinity toward the
 To: Active partner, who seeks and
 develops relationships with mentors
 inside and out of the company.

Mentor Role From: Authoritative--directing and
 outlining a straight path.
 To: Facilitating a supportive climate
 in line with proteges goals.

Learning Process From: Mentor is responsible for protege's
 To: Self-directed: protege responsible
 for own learning.

Mentoring From: One mentor, one protege
Relationship To: Multiple mentors over a lifetime
 and multiple models for mentoring:
 individual, group, and peer models.

Length of From: Calendar focused.
Relationship To: Goal determined.

Focus From: Product oriented, transferring
 To: Process oriented: critical
 reflection before
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Article Details
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Author:Clarke, Robyn D.
Publication:Black Enterprise
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2003
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