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Mindful Mentoring Means…

Setting the Stage

An SVP, who is an India-American male, has identified real potential for promotion into management for a staff member who happens to be a Black male. After several 1:1 coaching sessions with the young man, the SVP doesn’t feel as though he is making any progress in terms of helping his protégé understand how much his talent is valued.

Background Information

Both the SVP and the staff member happen to be clients and engage in 1:1 coaching with me every two weeks. The SVP and I talk about his experiential learning through the Executive Leadership Mastermind while the staff member and I talk about his experiential learning through the Black Employee Resource Group (ERG).

The Challenge

While they both identify with the Black Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) community, and can relate to each other, they have vastly different expectations about what a mentoring relationship means and how it works. For instance, the SVP immigrated to America as a child with his parents, was always told he was only limited by the amount of effort he expended and began working to help support the family at an early age. Although he is regularly stopped at the airport for a “random” security check when traveling with his peers, he is also assumed to be a doctor of some sort in social settings because of his appearance and accent. His protégé had the option of working as a teenager if he chose to, understands the feeling of being stopped at “random” by police while driving, and has the luxury of exploring several career options as a young adult. But, he has yet to learn about the importance of social capital, project visibility, and senior-level support as critical factors in career advancement. Having never had a mentor, he is still unsure why this SVP has taken such an “interest” in him and his work.

The Approach

In talking with the SVP, it appears he is doing and saying all the right things to increase the confidence of his staff member by scheduling regular 1:1 time with him to offer feedback, provide insight into the business, and groom him for short-term, high visibility projects. However, in speaking with the staff member, I discovered a hesitancy to be forthcoming with self-identified areas of improvement out of concern these would be seen as weaknesses by his SVP and thereby disqualify him for some coveted assignments. After some probing, I also learned that this young man has never had a formal mentor and felt suspicious when his SVP invited himself along on a client visit. The intention of the SVP was to actively demonstrate support for the young man. However, when the staff member recalled other client visits that his white counterparts conducted on their own, he began to suspect he may have been on a 90-day performance improvement plan without being told. With that critical information, during my next 1:1 with the SVP I asked him how much of this young man’s career experience included regular meetings with a mentor. He said he didn’t know. I then asked, how likely is it that this may be his first formal mentoring relationship? He guessed that it may be the first. Then I asked him to try to place himself in the young man’s shoes: being Black, having never had a formal mentoring relationship – through no fault of his own -- and not understanding that asking empowering questions of him are designed to help him identify improvement areas and own the solutions were not intended to “trap” him but to support his ability to learn from his own experiences, may be completely foreign to him. This helped the SVP recognize the need to be more mindful about the possible lack of experience his protégé had with a mentor and how such a relationship functions.

The Outcomes

With a newfound understanding on the part of the SVP, he is now more cognizant of stating his intentions during coaching sessions in ways that build the confidence of his staff member instead of causing him to assume he is being under review for evidence of poor performance. In speaking with the young man, he is exhibiting greater confidence and is more willing to share with his mentor self-identified areas of improvement that are part of cultivating a career path.

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