Thursday, November 14, 2013

Being a Smart Protege

In this terrific Wall Street Journal column,, and Kathy E. Kram offer eight tips for "being a smart protege."  We know that many young people are being encouraged to find a series of professional and personal mentors.   That advice begs the question:  How does one become a good protege?  What does it take to be successful in a mentoring relationship?  Chandler, Hall, and Kram offer some good recommendations.   In particular, I like their thoughts on how to "make it mutual."  Here's an excerpt:

Mentoring networks involve shared learning between two people. Too many people enter the relationships thinking of themselves as plebeian protégés who get support. Savvys, on the other hand, realize they have something to offer their mentors, too, and help them out whenever they can—which gives the other person a deeper vested interest in them.

Mentoring should be a two-way street.  Are you in an industry facing rapid technological change, or being disrupted by new internet-based technologies?  If so, senior executives may need to hear from young voices.  They may need to understand how millenials think, act, and consume products and services.   In some cases, firms will have established reverse mentoring programs, so that the veteran employees can learn from the millenials.  Suppose, though, that your firm has NOT embraced such a cutting edge program.  As a protege, you can still work on making a mentoring relationship mutual, by offering insights about societal and technological trends, and by letting the senior person "hear the voice of a millenial" on key issues.  In short, as a protege, you can become a "mini-focus group" for the senior executive. You can offer them insight into how millenials consume (or don't consume) the firm's products.  By offering that perspective, you can make a mentoring relationship mutual and provide real value to that mentor and the firm as a whole.  

Here's the key though:  Don't bring your opinions to the table.  Bring your data.  Bring insight into how millenials think and act, rather than offering your view on what the firm should do.   It can easily be considered brash and arrogant to start telling senior executives how to change the firm's strategy.  However, offering them insight into consumer behavior (just the facts) can help guide them to a rethinking of an outdated strategy, while avoiding a defensive response. 

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