Vol. 14 No. 1: August 2014
"Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn."
"Mentoring is a long-term relationship that meets a development need, helps develop full potential, and benefits all partners, mentor, mentee and the organisation".
Rosa Storelli was the CEO and Principal of Melbourne’s Methodist Ladies College in Melbourne for fifteen years. It is the largest single campus school in the Southern Hemisphere with over 2200 students, 800 staff and an annual budget of $60 million. Rosa is now using her skills and expertise as a mentor and advisor across the education and nonprofit sectors.
How do you define mentoring?
Mentoring is when an experienced person shares their experience and knowledge with another professional. It is a matter of prompting questions in the person you are mentoring, to help them reach a deeper and greater understanding of what they are trying to achieve. It is based on creating a relationship, as opposed to coaching, which is more functional, helping a person come up with an answer to a specific question, challenge or task.
What are the advantages of mentoring for the CEO?
The advantages of having a mentor for the person leading a nonprofit organisation is in helping them to fulfill the mission, the vision, the values and the strategic direction of the organisation. You want the organisation to perform to its maximum. If the productivity of someone in a leadership position is enhanced, then the people served by the organisation will benefit.
What about the board?
The chair can utilise a mentor if they have never had the position before, to help them deal with conflict and manage people around the table. Every board member wants some airplay to show the others “I am on the board because I have some knowledge. If I do not speak, other board members may question why I am there.” The board can fall into the trap where board members feel they need the floor at every meeting. A chair must be able to manage people and that is where they may need mentoring.
What about in the orientation of new board members?
It is essential to tell them where the organisation has already travelled, what is the vision and what are the cultural norms. In effect, you are helping them to feel comfortable in the space. If you called it a mentor in the true sense of what I think it is, that person is assumed to be more knowledgeable. What is usually required is a buddy, a peer or a critical friend; not a mentor.
When trying to diversify, if you have a young person who has never been on a board before, then it is good to have a mentor from within the board. If, however, it is a new trustee who has had prior experience serving on a board, you do not want them internally mentored lest they think they should have the same responses as someone else.
How can mentoring increase organisational learning in a nonprofit?
It can be fantastic because you get new wisdom and new expertise, someone with fresh eyes to ask questions but not provide the answers. It helps people focus on the real mission of the organisation, and how what we are doing benefits the organisation. It also builds up a learning culture so that you have an organisation where the team learn from each other. It indicates that as an individual you do not have to have all the answers.
What are the characteristics of an effective mentor?
A mentor should always come from outside the organisation to encourage safety, trust and honesty - you cannot be one hundred per cent trusting and honest if the mentor is from within your own organisation. There will always be an element of holding back out of fear of being judged. That vulnerability can only be unleashed with someone outside the organisation who is there to guide you, rather than judge and be part of a performance review.
An effective mentor has to be caring, supportive, kind and trustworthy. They cannot be afraid to ask hard questions of the mentee. It should never be someone who is trying to prove his or her own worth, who takes over or tries to be domineering. They must to be able to pick up on soft spots and then focus on that. The person who is being mentored wants to evolve and enhance their ability to lead. If it is always comfortable you are never going to push at the sides. Our role as mentors is to push people to explore.
And the mentee?
A willingness to learn and to focus on their soft spots even though they might not know what they are. Be a risk taker because when you have this type of relationship, you are opening up yourself. There is a vulnerability and it is not always comfortable. But that is okay if the two people have developed honesty and trust. That is why your first meeting is incredibly important.
What about mentoring in Australia as a management tool?
Mentoring is still quite new in Australia. I have seen two types coming through. First is where CEOs are able to get mentoring as part of their package and their educational learning. The chair has said this person needs a mentor and it is built into the professional learning budget as a package of 6 to 9 months, which is the norm for this type of relationship. It then usually moves into a less formal relationship.
The second is where individuals have come to mentoring as “secret business”, which is a worry, as they may lack the confidence with their chair to admit to being mentored. In Australia, unlike the United States, there is still a bit of hesitation around the whole idea.
What is your experience of mentoring?
I mentor a number of principals who are in the first three to five years in their roles and people who have just taken over on nonprofit boards. For example, a CEO has come to me and asked to be mentored in organisational management and leadership. Some of them are with the blessing of their boards and some I am just doing personally. My hope would be that people are confident to say “I am being mentored”, because it is actually a professional relationship. You are not being mentored because you cannot do your job – unfortunately some people still believe this. You get mentored because you are doing the job well and you want to do it better. Mentoring can help them ask the questions to get better at leading.
Rosa can be contacted via her website at http://rosastorelli.com.au