Contributed Column

Personnel Points

by Dave Mount, Westaff


I was at a wedding a few years ago. I knew the bride quite well as she had been my assistant for a time and then moved into a marketing position and later became a branch manager. I did not know the bride’s family.

I was introduced to the bride’s father, and he thanked me profusely for mentoring his daughter. I had not really thought about it as mentoring then, but it clearly was. She was one of several people I had mentored in our company and, as I think back on it, it gives me an immense source of pride. One of the people I mentored is now one of the owners of the company.

I did not walk into mentoring those people, I fell into it.

To be a mentor, you need to spend a lot of time with the person being mentored. Some of the time may seem frivolous to you, the seasoned executive, but it is not. The time you spend with your mentee is important time. Think back to an occasion when you, yourself, may have had a mentor. You will probably not be able to think of times that were frivolous. It was all important time to you.

When I was mentoring Zoe (not her real name), I would take her on office visits when I visited branches. This created a logistical problem but we overcame it. For example, I would take Zoe to our branch in Albany — a 3-hour drive in each direction. We needed to make our time efficient, so we would plan the meetings with Albany personnel on the trip down and then discuss the results on the return trip. It made for a long day. I drove and Zoe made notes all the way down and back.

Being a mentor was difficult for me. I am an intuitive manager. I don’t go into a meeting with my branch personnel with a long list of things I want to accomplish. I might have a few things on my list, but my management style is to ask a few questions and let my managers do the talking. I want to hear what they have to say. I look for sincerity, fear, pride, and worry in their voices and faces. Also, in keeping with my intuitive style, I take few notes as I want to pick up on those nuances.

If it is difficult for me to be a mentor, it must be especially difficult for the person I am mentoring. How do you teach intuition? It’s all in the observing.

One person I mentored, Carol, wanted to learn workers’ compensation insurance. I taught her everything I knew, but I was no expert. I showed her how to navigate the reports we received and how to get the information she needed. Within a year, she was one of the experts in the state of Vermont on workers’ compensation.

So: I have some rules for good mentoring.

• Be yourself. You were asked to mentor a person for your own attributes, so don’t change them.

• Have plenty of informal time with your person. The informal time will be very valuable.

• Don’t hold anything back. Your mentoring is a compliment to you and not a challenge to your job.

• Be patient. Don’t be afraid to explain some concepts twice or three times or more.

• Let the person you are mentoring set the pace so you are not going through too much at any one time. Do not overwhelm your mentee with too much information.

Good mentoring makes for good employees. Your company will be all the better for it and, when your mentee gets married, maybe you will receive a great compliment.

Dave Mount is the founder of Westaff in Burlington.

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