The Lost Art of Mentoring
Who taught you life skills? Did anyone coach you in the ways of culture and values? An uncle? Your grandma? The television?
The movie Gran Torino with Clint Eastwood gives a genuine, raw portrayal of mentoring. In a nutshell, Eastwood attempts to teach the immigrant neighbor boy how to be a man. He starts by teaching Thao the skill of carpentry: how to hold a hammer and which tools to always have on hand.
Then he comically endeavors to educate the kid on manly talk and how to act like a man. Eastwood verbalizes it, then demonstrates it, and finally observes Thao doing what he’s learned. The mission took time, money, energy, and the forging of a relationship, but it was worth it.
Some of us wish we had an Eastwood-like character in our lives. Speaking from experience, we all need mentors. When I became CIO of a large, prestigious organization in my mid 30s, I was both elated and scared. Mostly scared. What gave me comfort and accelerated my success were my mentors. Even today, despite the 10 years’ of experience under my belt, I can’t grow without a mentor.
Dictionary.com defines mentoring as an ongoing, planned partnership that focuses on helping a person reach specific goals over a period of time. Unfortunately, the art of mentoring has rarely caught on in the business world, healthcare included. We see this reflected specifically in the graying of existing leadership and the lack of succession planning.
This type of one-on-one interaction — lost somewhere after the apprenticeships of the pre-industrial age — has been replaced with short-term, focused leadership programs. These programs attempt to turbo-charge management education by cramming years of collective wisdom into a one-week synopsis. For example, the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME) offers an excellent leadership development program entitled “The CIO Boot Camp” that cannot keep up with the demand for enrollment. Why is it so popular? It fills the mentoring void in today’s organizations.
Is mentoring beneficial in healthcare? Yes, when done right. Committing to mentor another person is an investment in the long-term success of an organization, a selfless act of service for the sake of the profession and the future of healthcare.
This type of partnering also offers something a person might not get directly from their supervisor: broader experience, organizational perspective, and new skills. Let the CFO or CNO mentor an IT professional. If the CNO teaches the info specialist leadership skills, that will broaden the mentee’s ability and understanding.
Determining the appropriate mentor. Examine your strengths and weaknesses. Match up a clinician with a CFO in order to gain key insights into the healthcare financial world. Cross-pollination does wonders to promote teamwork and connectedness. (Mentors from outside of the organization or healthcare might offer a level of anonymity and broad perspective, but they would lack the context for key elements of discussions.)
Mentoring programs and recruiting. Job candidates respond favorably when they understand that the organization cares for their professional development and will enable them to achieve career success. Over time, as the mentoring program becomes a major differentiator in recruitment efforts, your organization will become an employer of choice. Gallop has statistically demonstrated that an organization with a high level of engaged employees significantly outperforms non-engaged workforces in areas including customer satisfaction and financial results – both employee and employer win. Clearly, such programs lead to improved health in the corporate setting.
Partnering exposes you to new insights and understanding. One academic medical center I know sends its IT leaders on annual short-term mentoring assignments to all of its clinical departments. The CIO began routine rounds with physicians and residents. In each case, the mentor allowed the IT leader to experience the specific clinical care setting, answered questions, and discussed the critical intersection of IT and quality patient care. Each IT leader came back with a new sense of purpose and motivation. They in turn made immediate changes to IT systems and support to help ensure a higher quality of care.
Mentoring develops future IT leaders. Given the limited pool of emerging leaders, mentoring is more critical than ever. Identifying and growing talent within our organizations is imperative. Our leadership effectiveness is not so much based on formal education and rigorous reading, but in real-life, on-the-job experiences.
Restoring the lost art. We are the sum of our collective inputs. I credit my success to my mentors. I have been deliberate in this process. On even years, I mentor someone. On odd years, I am mentored. I require each of my direct reports to do the same. I’ve been formally mentored by health system CEOs, COOs, CFOs, CMOs and hospital presidents. I have mentored many who have since moved into positions of authority. Check out the many resources available on establishing quality mentoring programs.
A personal board of directors. At this stage of my career, I have had so many mentors that I consider them my board of directors. In fact, just today, I needed help in specific situation, so I called up a former mentor and met him for lunch. I left that meeting ready to conquer the world — or at least my personal struggle.
Resources. Anyone who posts a comment, I will send to you a simple one-page mentoring contract you can use to facilitate your own relationships. I will also send to you a list of “golden nuggets,” the bits of wisdom I have learned from being both a mentee and mentor.
Thank you for the many responses. By now, everyone who posted should have received the Mentoring Contract and the mentoring Golden Nuggets.
Quick answers to some of the questions.
I do not recommend mentoring any person in your chain of command. That is one reason for mentoring across disciplines. This is hard to avoid at the most senior levels, but can be accomplished by having a mentor outside of your organization.
Your chances of landing a willing mentor are exponentially increased if you disarm them first by telling them it is for a fixed period of time at regular intervals not to exceed one year, that you will handle all logistics and work around their schedule, that the relationship will be confidential, and you have a contract where you will define objectives. Genuine flattery helps — I have never been turned down.
Don’t wait on your organization or be a part of a weak mentoring system. Do what I call grassroots mentoring. Find someone who would make a strong mentor and ask them. But how do you identify a mentor? Observation. Look around you. Who do you admire or look up to? What disciplines do you need help in? Who inspires you? Who are you attracted to?
Finally, while I believe in diversity, I choose only males to mentor and mentee. Personal preference.
On the vendor side, those were some tough questions. To the extent possible, carve out the time for mentoring and make it untouchable. Because I often mentor with executives, I normally pick a breakfast slot. One, breaking bread is intimate. Two, you are less likely to have interruptions and tardiness. Three, everyone has to eat.
Ed Marx is a CIO currently working for a large integrated health system. Ed encourages your interaction through this blog. Add a comment by clicking the link at the bottom of this post. You can also connect with him directly through his profile pages on social networking sites LinkedIn and Facebook and you can follow him via Twitter — user name marxists.