My best mentors helped me figure out how to do my job better by giving me information and insight, and not by yelling at me to work harder or to stop bringing up all my crazy project management tool ideas!
“The great value of a mentor comes … when they tell you to shut up, stop whining, and to buckle down to the challenge.” Larry O’Brien, “Restoring the power of mentoring,” SD Times, March 2011, pg 85.
We had just started a new project. The bunch of us where on a phone conference and we were “going around the virtual room” and introducing ourselves. When I finished my quick introduction, a voice spoke up and said “you were my mentor!” There was a short silence in the call and then the next person introduced themselves, and the meeting continued. But the comment startled me.
I figured out who the individual was (he introduced himself towards the end) and recalled what we had done together. He had been a new project manager on a new product development. He had called me because our two projects overlapped (mine led, his built on what we would develope) and he was trying to understand what he needed to do. I laid out what we normally did and then said that if we worked together we could help each other’s efforts because the projects were so closely related. We regularly talked after that and I told him what I would normally do at each step of the process and suggested how to work around the problem areas. I didn’t think anything about doing this. It helped both of us and he was willing to work together and clearly looking to learn how things worked. (Don’t have a mentor? Just do it instead.)
Years later, he would call me up and say “hey Bruce, did you known they approved a new release that uses your product?” I hadn’t (which was a problem but typical) and he jumped on it and managed it until I could get time from my current mega-project to look at it. He saved that project, which became my project, because he saw the fumbled approval and went after it. It was his way of thanking me for mentoring him when he was new.
At another time, I noticed a new project manager working hard trying to manage his project. He was doing some questionable activities and pushing hard for some equally questionable actions. He had a poor reputation within his team and with other project managers.
I gave him a call and offered some suggestions on what he might want to do instead and gave him some of the material we had developed to help guide him to where he wanted to go. Later in a reorganization he would report to me, in large part because my boss saw I was providing him guidance and decided to consolidate his projects under mine. This guy became the project manager of only the 2nd team to deliver a project on time and with quality, after ours, in a company that had not delivered on time in any one’s collective memory. He had great potential, but did not perform well until someone took the time to work with him.
Finally, we were working on another major project and had a new hard charging requirements manager as part of the team. Another senior project manage told me “stop helping him!” It seems this PM was feeding this new manager mis-information and getting others to withhold information because he was worried this new guy would take power and influence from him (he hinted it would hurt me also). Instead, I worked with the new guy as I would anyone and he did well (even with the interference) and we were to work well together on future projects. (See why we support the other guys project.)
What I took from these kind of experiences was pretty straight forward. Help those people, willing to accept help, who look like they need help or who ask for help. There is nothing easier than helping someone who is working hard to help themselves. I never thought of this as mentoring, but in hindsight it clearly served that purpose.
I find that too many people, with the ability to mentor, hold back because it “takes too much time” or “I don’t want to be responsible” or “It might make them look better than me” or “I want to be the expert and the one who gets everything done!” What has always happened for me is that mentoring paid dividends for years in both friendship and in getting help in return.
Mentoring is a great project management tool that helps our team directly or helps us indirectly when we mentor someone outside the team. Mentoring is helping someone now while investing in the future. This investment inevitably results in long term benefits for everyone. (See also project managers should invest in innovation.)
What is your experience with mentoring or being mentored?