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The Rules of Mentoring

The rules of mentoring are changing along with the structure of corporate life. It's perfectly acceptable, for instance, to seek a younger mentor who is below you in the corporate hierarchy, but who has the specialized knowledge you need. Even CEOs are doing it. Judith Lindenberger provides more insight into how these arrangements work when she speaks on "The New Rules of Mentoring" on Tuesday, March 5, at 7:30 a.m. at the Main Street Bistro and Bar in the Princeton Shopping Center.

This article was prepared for the February 20, 2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

The New Rules of Mentoring

When Judith Lindenberger was last looking for a job, she received advice from Lois Young. Young, a founder of the Newgrange School, and now a consultant to non-profits, told her with some force "`Don't look for a job! I've never looked for a job in my life. I create them.'"

Lindenberger, who holds an MBA in HR management from Drexel, had spent nearly 10 years working for Brown Forman, the parent company of Lenox. There she was a senior HR consultant whose projects included initiating and developing mentoring programs throughout the company. More recently, she was administrative director of the Newgrange School. As she was adjusting to the switch from the corporate world to the nonprofit world of Newgrange, she hired Linda Sepe, a coach. Sepe not only helped with the transition, but also helped Lindenberger form long-term career goals.

The upshot was that Sepe saw Lindenberger as an entrepreneur, and encouraged her to go in that direction. "Her gift," says Lindenberger, "was that she encouraged me to take the risk."

Lindenberger did indeed take the risk. She followed Young's advice and opened a consulting firm that mentors individuals, and works with corporations and non-profits on a range of human resource functions, including recruiting, development, evaluation, training, and retention.

On Tuesday, March 5, at 7:30 a.m. Lindenberger Consulting holds a seminar at the Main Street Bistro and Bar in the Princeton Shopping Center at which Lindenberger speaks on "The New Rules of Mentoring," and Sepe speaks on "Smart Ideas for Developing Your People and Yourself: Coaching the Soul." Cost: $75 for workshop. Call 609-730-1049.

Lindenberger's interest in mentoring began in 1992. New at Brown Forman, she sat with female colleagues during company presentations and, with them, wondered aloud: "Why are the guys up there, and we're not?" She went on to weave mentoring into the culture of that corporation and says many of the young women she knew 10 years ago have in fact climbed up onto the stage themselves. "I feel mentoring helped them to become executive vice presidents," she says.

After many years of watching mentoring in action, Lindenberger says her ideas on how the partnerships best work have changed. She offers this advice for people in mentoring relationships:

Trust yourself. "The answers don't always lie outside yourself," Lindenberger says. "Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz always had the power to go home, but for a long time she put her trust in crazy ideas." It is possible -- and desirable -- to coach yourself. "Reflect on things that happen at work," she says. Analyze positive and negative events alike. Figure out what you did right, or wrong, and what you might do differently next time.

Become an expert. Move yourself into position by becoming really knowledgeable about some facet of your work. Then write about it, give speeches, and generally offer yourself up as an expert.

Set the course. "In the old style of mentoring, a senior manager, generally a man, takes a younger worker under his wing, and shows him the ropes." Mentoring is now more sophisticated. "Seek mentors to teach you skills," says Lindenberger. Write down what it is you need to learn, and find people who can teach you.

Put goals in writing. "I've seen it again and again," says Lindenberger. "People who write down their goals, get more out of mentoring."

Build your own board of directors. Lindenberger says she has done this. Throughout her career she has added knowledgeable individuals to give her advice in much the same way that corporations seek out the best and brightest to steer them to greater profitability.

Get away from birds of your feather. While likes do attract, Lindenberger suggests that mentoring works best when you pair with individuals who are significantly different from you. Men might seek out women, technical experts might seek out creative types, and the detail-oriented might look to big picture thinkers.

Get radical. Find someone who cares enough to push you even when it hurts. Says Lindenberger, "I find the best mentors are brutally honest."

Look in every direction. Mentoring doesn't have to pair a master of the universe with a neophyte. Not anymore. "Jack Welch had a program where he encouraged younger people with Internet skills to mentor older non-Web employees," she gives as an example. Effective mentoring crosses all levels of a business. Lindenberger has seen instances where a president sought mentoring from key employees. Don't just look up for guidance, but look to the side, and below, too.

Know when to end it. Mentoring may not be as intense as marriage, but it can be a charged relationship, and it can go sour. Sometimes mentors use their protégés as unpaid assistants or see them as clones. There can come a point, Lindenberger says, "when mentoring becomes unhealthy for both people." When that happens, or when you have learned all a mentor has to teach, she says it's time to "say thank you and move on."

Copyright © 2013 by The Lindenberger Group, LLC. All rights reserved.

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