Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others. Jack Welch

There are many ways in which a person can learn and develop through out his or her career. Having or being a mentor provides an interactive and custom-designed education. Mentoring offers invaluable benefits to both individuals, as well as to the organization that employs them.

What Is a Mentorship?

When a person takes the time to share the gift of knowledge and experience with another, they share the gift of a lifetime. Jennifer Cunningham

The mentor-mentee relationship, in its most basic form, is one person taking the time and effort to share knowledge, experience, and wisdom with another person. Mentorships can be formal or informal, but usually they are broken into two main categories.

1. Senior-to-junior mentorship. In this type of mentorship, an up-andcoming leader is advised and counseled by a more experienced individual. The relationship is based on developing the junior individual, but often the senior individual learns and benefits just as much from the mentorship.

2.Peer-to-peer mentorship. This mentorship is common among students and serves many purposes. Students pair up to check each others work, thus leading to real-time feedback of errors and mistakes. They also are able to learn leadership and team working skills, often solidifying a recent lesson as they teach it to another student.

Both formal and informal mentorships occur in the federal government. Informal mentorships often occur via networking events: co-workers, students, and other participants develop relationships and can learn and grow from these connections. Formal mentorships have specific expectations and guidelines, which provide consistency and dependability throughout the relationship and ensure that both sides benefit from the partnership.

For example, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has a formal mentorship program that can be either peer to-peer or senior-to-junior. This program gives mentees a list of possible mentors to choose from based on the preferences they enter into a computer matching system. More about this particular program can be found at https://mentoring.hhs.gov/. The site also gives a thorough summary of mentoring related reading materials.

The Office of Personal Managements (OPM) new Pathways Program, which seeks to bring new talent into government, primarily calls for senior-to-junior formal mentorships. One can be both a mentor and a mentee at once; also, there is no age limit for either role. (See p. 45 sidebar for tips to senior leaders on preparing to be a mentor and deriving knowledge from the experience.)

The Pathways Program

The Pathways Program will be the main tool agencies use to channel new people into the government workforce pipeline. There will be three pathways: the Internship Program for current students; the Recent Graduates Program for those within two years of graduation from a higher education institution, trade school, or PhD program; and the Presidential Management Fellows (PMF) Program for those with a masters degree or higher.

The goal of the Pathways Program is to recruit more students and recent graduates with higher education degrees into service for the federal government. Historically, these groups have been at a disadvantage to enter public service because the federal recruiting process emphasizes work experience, which students and recent graduates often lack.

OPM proposed the requirement of assigning a mentor to each new hire through the Recent Graduates Program and the PMF Program. The only difference between the mentorship required for these two programs will be that the mentor for PMF individuals must rank at the Senior Executive Service (SES) level. The guidance and requirements for these mentorships is still not finalized, and it is yet to be determined whether they will be set by OPM or by each agency individually. What is known is that there will be an influx of new employees in need of mentors.

Whether enough federal leaders are ready to be mentors remains to be seen. However, many federal employees have a strong sense of mission. Helping prepare the next generation to fill future critical roles is a great way to accomplish that mission.

Young Feds Desire Mentors

In 2011 Young Government Leaders (YGL), a professional organization of more than 2,000 men and women employed by or for the government who are young in their service or fresh in their perspective, conducted two surveys that touched on the topic of mentorships. When asked what should be included in the Pathways Program, 78 percent of 372 respondents thought formal mentorships should be part of the program. Another 53 percent thought informal mentorships should be in the program.

How effective are formal mentorship programs? Seventy-nine percent of respondents said that they were effective or very effective. This indicates that young people in government desire to have a mentor. One individual noted: Having a network of people who have been down the road before and [having] access to long-time agency leaders who can serve as mentors is essential for guiding fellows or interns through this type of program and retaining their employment long term.

Another respondent wrote: There needs to be a formal mentor program. My initial mentor was not qualified for the role, and performed abysmally. I had serious doubts as to whether or not I would continue working at my agency, that is, until I got a new mentor who actually took the role seriously. I cannot emphasize enough how important mentors are, especially in the first few months.

While the Pathways survey explored young feds take on mentorships, the PMF survey, with 225 YGL respondents, looked at the actual practice of mentorships. In response to, Does your agency require or recommend a mentor, 45 percent of respondents said yes. In addition, for the query, Do you have a mentor at your agency, 39 percent said they have one, and of those, 92 percent thought that it was helpful or very helpful. This seems to indicate that the vast majority of federal employees with mentors benefit greatly from this relationship, but not nearly enough have one, either due to their lack of pursuit of mentors, of agency support, or a combination.

Benefits of Mentorships

Everyone has a transferable commodity: knowledge. Sharing your unique expertise and making introductions for some one creates a lasting legacy. Marsha Blackburn

In todays climate, training and education budgets are very tight; therefore, learning situations must be found through other avenues besides the traditional classroom setting. In a June 2011 T+D magazine feature article entitled Conversations With Mentoring Leaders, Randy Emelo identified five reasons why organizations are investing in mentoring as a major learning strategy.

  1. Mentoring is important. It uses the potential of the entire workforce to create a connected cadre of wisdom.
  2. Mentoring is flexible. It can be used to meet a wide array of needs, both personal and organizational.
  3. Mentoring is effective. It affects both the retention and development of talent. Mentoring allows people to share organizational knowledge across the enterprise in a way that lets them actually apply the learning to their jobs.
  4. Mentoring is scalable. Technology is bringing the world together. Mentoring keeps learning relational and effectivea powerful combination that supports global usability while still applying personal context for learning.
  5. Mentoring builds depth. Mentoring relationships across silos creates a broader understanding of the entire enterprise. The long-term development of a rich circle of advisors assures that each leader is well informed and well supported.

Other ways in which participating in a mentorship is advantageous to the mentor include

  • Mentoring enhances skills. If you dont use it, you lose it is a common refrain. Avoid this pitfall by sharing ones knowledge with others. In addition to keeping up technical skills, mentoring develops management abilities, patience, and leadership experience.
  • Mentoring encourages introspection and growth. Mentoring is a two-way street. Both the mentor and mentee develop their interpersonal and intrapersonal skills throughout the relationship and secure an opportunity to reflect on or consider future career plans.
  • Mentoring provides a way to give back. As a mentor, people can earn another persons respect and leave behind a legacy to their organization. The agency is able to minimize the brain drain of retirement and continue with a pipeline of skilled workers who carry the shared knowledge of past generations. Contribution through a mentorship is a win-win-win situation for the mentee, mentor, and organization.
  • Mentoring exposes new thoughts. Mentors may have a lifetime of experience in a field, but true experts know that there is always more to learn. Participating in a mentoring relationship allows the mentor to see his or her profession through fresh eyes, and perhaps opens new perspective.
  • Mentorship provides professional satisfaction. Mentors have the reward of seeing their colleague learn and grow under their guidance.

Tips for Being a Federal Mentor

Being a government mentor has many advantages, but it also can be challenging at times. There are many resources. Dorothy Menelas, HHS mentoring program manager, shares these six tips on how to be a great mentor.

  1. Provide a vision. Bring to bear the ability to see not merely what is but what can be, and allow the mentee to buy into the vision.
  2. Plan it. Bring long-term planning and visioning to the mentoring process. Mentors can help menteesweigh the consequences of decisions they face.
  3. Break it down. Help guide reasonable long- and intermediate-term goals.
  4. Give timely feedback. Provide as much real-time feedback as possible. Provide words of encouragement and caution when necessary.
  5. Offer timely assistance and guidance. If you have an idea of what needs to be done and a way to do it, share your knowledge.
  6. Commit to action. Follow up on agreed-upon activities.

Most future leaders believe in mentorships with the components YGL and other agency representatives have outlined. And with the new Pathways Program, there will be new employees who need quality mentors. With mentors on board to provide vision and perspectives on the mission, a new generation of public servants can be prepared to face tomorrows challenges and inspire the next generation.