The Forgotten Art of Mentoring

Esther Pigg
Senior Vice President, Product Strategy FIS Payments Division
Posted on March 7, 2017

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Have you ever considered what it would be like to have a highly-experienced confidant within the financial industry? Someone you can discuss issues with, who can share their experiences and observations to help you assess the situation from a different perspective. Someone who can coach you and help you refine your decision-making skills. Concerning career growth, like many things in life, it’s always good to surround yourself with diverse resources and perspectives.

What differentiates great leaders? They have amazing networks around them providing backup and support.  They recognize they do not have to be the expert in all things, but rather see the value in having on a vast web of resources with the knowledge they can tap into when needed. Being intentional about building a strong network is more important than ever as millennials enter the workforce in large numbers while Baby Boomers are preparing to exit the workforce.  The loss of historical and institutional knowledge can be minimized through mentoring.

In reality, mentors provide tremendous benefits at any level in a career, whether just starting out from college, climbing the ladder or even a C-suite executive.

Mentors and Mentees

Mentoring is intended to provide a framework for helping someone develop in their current job and develop the skills and accessibility to resources or knowledge need to help them reach longer-term goals. Mentoring focuses on the professional development and aspirations of the mentee in a professional relationship, but also, to some extent, a personal one.

Successful mentors make a valuable contribution to the personal and organizational development of their mentees. At the most basic level, they emphasize personal and professional development and promote knowledge sharing. Someone seeking professional development and guidance from a mentor should also realize that it isn’t a “one size fits all” proposition. For the best short and long term success, mentees should focus on reaching out to different types of mentors. Consider these three potential categories and the benefits of having a resource from each one: peers (colleagues), role models (senior managers) and Jedi Masters (top executives).

Peers can’t be overlooked as potential mentors.  They can provide a different perspective on day-to-day issues and work-related challenges. A different viewpoint on a problem that comes from someone with other experiences can be invaluable.

Senior managers can provide the bigger mid-term career perspective, but out of respect for their time and responsibility, it isn’t appropriate to leverage them for daily issues. This group brings the experience and skill to help you navigate organizational culture more effectively.  They can also model better communication styles to can help you become a more effective communicator and collaborator.  Using communication to influence and build consensus is a great leadership trait, and this may be where you seek out those skills more specifically.  Perhaps most importantly, this group helps expand the mentees network and professional connections inside and outside the organization which can be a powerful contributor to long-term success.

A Jedi Master, or top executive, takes the long view and showcases the potential end-game. Their role as a mentor may initially be deemed aspirational as you think about your career journey.  A mentor of this caliber also helps expand your network, but they are best leveraged as guidepost for the long-term vision you have for your career.  Other mentors may come in and out of your life in short periods, but these mentors often remain for the duration of your career.  They know your talents and weaknesses and will be there to hold up the mirror of accountability when you find yourself at a professional crossroads.  In the most ideal situation, they may even help you architect a development path to achieve long-term career goals.

A Wider Perspective

Fundamentally, mentoring needs to follow a structured process. The most productive mentoring relationship allows for candid and direct feedback.  That can be intense at times, so it is essential to understand that your mentor is your coach, first and foremost.  That doesn’t mean that cannot also be a friend, but that comes second.

Time is the one thing none of us have enough of.   With that in mind, respect the time you and your mentor(s) have by making a plan for your conversations.  This ensures the mentoring process is productive.  You might begin the relationship by scheduling a meeting on their calendar and having a prioritized list of three to five questions you want to discuss.   Weekly mentoring discussions with peers may be feasible, but given time constraints, meeting with senior managers will likely be restricted to three to four times per year. Annual or semi-annual meetings with a Jedi Master mentor may be more appropriate, so it is vital to maximize the time available. Remember, mentors aren’t there to help with promotion, they are guides and help build a career and a network of expertise.

Variety is essential to a strong mentoring support group. Mentees need to look beyond their current employer and try to court role models from other companies, including unrelated sectors and industries. Innovation and changes in one industry impact others; consumer behavior and technology changes ripple through multiple industries with similar themes. The aim is to get a diverse perspective.

Mentoring Cheat Sheet

Mentoring is not a one-way conversation; the mentee is also there to learn about what it takes to make it. Pose specific questions: Can you share how you came into your current role? How did you learn to deal with failure and move on? How do you maintain a solid connection with key influencers? Will you help me identify my current blind spots and a plan of attack for addressing them? How could I have communicated my idea more effectively? Can you share how you have approached risk-taking – early in your career compared to now? Will you help me get better connected within the organization by introducing me to some people you see as critical to our success?

Be Relentless About Growing Your Network

There is a strong correlation between having a large personal and professional network and the ability to influence others. It is important to understand a mentor’s value is not just advisory, they build a sphere of influence. Mentors enjoy opening doors to new conversations and initiatives, they get satisfaction from passing on their skills and wisdom: the protégé effect.

The success of mentoring, whether formally part of company policy or through individual initiatives, offers invaluable career building support. But mentees need to take responsibility for their goals and be willing to reflect on what they want out of the relationship. They must be willing to seek out and identify who would be the best mentors and commit to driving the relationship forward.

But maybe the most important realization, irrespective of current career level, is that we can all be mentors for others. Mentoring and the commitment to self-improvement remains a lifelong endeavor with relationships spanning decades.

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Esther Pigg
Senior Vice President, Product Strategy FIS Payments Division

Esther leads the Product Strategy team for the Payments division of FIS that spans debit, prepaid, credit card, merchant, network and loyalty programs. With extensive experience across the banking and payments technology industry, Esther focuses her team on developing long term product strategy for U.S. and global retail payment products to effectively engage the markets FIS serves.