Mentoring is a Two-Way Street
The mentoring process is much more than a senior member helping a junior member. It is a relationship between colleagues in which the experienced member lends his or her expertise to the protégé and in the process, learns and grows during the experience.
The VHMA’s mentoring program was established in 2003. Not only is it a popular and free member benefit, but it is also well regarded by those who have been mentored, as well as by VHMA members who have served as mentors. Many VHMA mentors value the mentoring relationship for what they can impart to others, as well as what they learn during the process.
Mentoring is a rewarding, fulfilling and learning-filled experience for all involved, and it’s a role that I encourage all seasoned managers to embrace. As a mentor, you share your knowledge with others. But mentoring also opens established managers to questions and situations from their mentees in which they too can learn and grow.
Mentor, Meet Mentee
The process of becoming a mentor can be either formal or informal. Informal mentoring relationships often occur within an organization or agency when an experienced manager takes a newly hired employee under her wing. Formal programs, such as VHMA’s program, matches candidates by professional interest. In many cases, mentor and mentee don’t even reside in the same state! Twenty-first century connectivity ensures that the mentoring relationship will flourish using email, text, social media, instant messaging, smartphones, and other forms of communication.
Formal mentoring programs are effective, primarily because they attract enthusiastic participants who are eager to share their knowledge. But to mentor a colleague it is not necessary to be involved in an established program. Occasionally a mentoring relationship will slowly evolve as a less experienced employee seeks counsel from an established employee. Or it could be that it is a manager who takes it upon herself to advise a new member in the industry who is in need of assistance. Mentoring opportunities abound; the trick is to be aware of situations where your professional skills and expertise can benefit others.
Confessions of a Mentor
Gerard Gervasi, CM, has been a VHMA member since 1999. He is a past president of the Association, and an active participant and strong supporter of the mentoring program. Over the years he has formally been matched with seven mentees. “What starts as a mentoring relationship, in many cases, has led to lifelong friendships.” Although he admits that the mentee often needs someone to lean on, as a mentor he views the relationship as a learning experience for both parties. “We talk regularly and when I’m asked a question, I am committed to not just drawing on my experience but to doing the research and finding a comprehensive answer. These experiences give me a broader awareness of the issues my colleagues are dealing with. As a result I understand and know more.”
Gervasi cautions prospective mentors to be fully invested in the role. Those who treat the role of mentor as an afterthought are wasting their time and doing a disservice to the mentee. Gervasi is blunt about this, “If you can’t commit, then don’t connect.”
According to Gervasi, the purpose of mentoring is to embark on a learning process with an emphasis on issues. He warns mentors to keep the focus on the big issues and not to focus too closely on the daily management of the mentee’s job responsibilities. “You are not the boss, you are not there to perform their job, you are available as a resource on professional issues that will enhance professional growth,” Gervasi said.
Gervasi also suggests that part of the relationship should be devoted to helping the mentee acclimate to the industry, not only to perform effectively as an employee. He often encourages mentees to attend VHMA conferences to network with others in the industry. Because of the geographic distance between mentor and mentee, this is often the first time they have the opportunity to meet face-to-face. It is also an opportunity for the mentor to put the mentee in touch with other key players in the industry.
And, while the relationship is professional, Gervasi encourages mentors to show their human side; from time-to-time, inquire about a sick child, or remember a personal milestone. It is through these small expressions of kindness that the mentoring relationship will endure for years.
The Mentee’s Perspective
Marci May, CVT, is a hospital administrator and a VHMA member since 2008. One year after joining VHMA, she participated in the mentor program. According to May, “It was a wonderful experience and really helped my refine my skills.” One of the program’s greatest benefits according to May is that she was able to approach her mentor with questions and benefit from his wealth of experience. At times the mentoring process became a learning process for both of them, as they worked through the questions to find the answers that were productive for both parties.
Entering the program, May knew she wanted to improve her skills, but had not identified specific goals. However, her mentor was instrumental in helping her to refine her professional goals.
In addition to the many learning opportunities, May credits the mentoring experience as the catalyst for her active involvement in the VHMA. “My mentor encouraged me to participate in events and conferences. It was through this participation that I was better able to take advantage of the full menu of benefits the Association offers.”
May also noted that as she has progressed with her professional goals, she maintains a relationship with her mentor and consults with him on occasion.
Consider the Many Benefits of the Mentoring Experience
A mentor affects the professional life of a protégé by fostering insight, identifying needed knowledge, and expanding growth opportunities. A mentor also gains a heightened awareness of the issues in the profession from the perspective of another. Research demonstrates that mentoring can enhance career satisfaction for the mentor. Regardless of which side of the table you sit at, mentoring, or being mentored, is a career-enhancing, professional growth benefit for all involved.
Christine Shupe is the Executive Director of the Veterinary Hospital Managers Association. The association is dedicated to enhancing and serving professionals in veterinary management through superior education, certification and networking. For more information, visit www.vhma.org.