Mentoring in action

Mentoring always sounds like a massive undertaking. First you find the mentors, then the mentorees. Then you match them up.

Then you establish some type of reporting and progress system to ensure that both sides are benefiting from the program. And this doesn't even take into account the efforts the mentors and mentorees contribute.

Frankly, creating a formal mentoring program has always seemed like a great idea - but one I don't have the time for right now. However, a reader of this column was nice enough to share his informal mentoring program, one that you and I can easily do.

For the past 20 years, Paul has been keeping a management binder, adding to it any articles or resources he deems valuable. Currently, it's more than 4 inches thick. "My collection of articles, about half of which I have available in electronic form, come from many sources. Some are as traditional as the Harvard Business Review or Fortune. Many others come from the general or industry-specific business Web sites I make it a point to review as often as time allows," Paul says. Other resources came from seminars he's attended and other sources.

Paul uses the binder as his own library, dispersing pieces of information to people he mentors, or even family members. "I have collected some fairly basic stuff, knowing it might be of the most use to some of the younger folks with whom I come in contact," he says. "My nephew's graduation from college two years ago and entry into the corporate world was certainly a driving force in that regard, especially as his parents are both academics and in little position to offer much useful practical advice."

Yet with his management binder, Paul had plenty of information at his fingertips. "I have found that the multiplicity of articles is extremely useful. Too often, mentors know one right way something ought to be done," he says. "When [my] nephew was counseled by his director recently to look into presentation skills training, I was able to send him four or five articles offering diverse suggestions and allowing him to be guided by those avenues he found most appealing."

Paul has also used his information store to help colleagues who have been laid off. "There's not a lot you can say to the fellow you ate lunch with yesterday when he's handed his [pink slip]. Nonetheless, if you maintain contact - and I try to - questions may arise about resumes, or interviews, or thank you letters, or references, or any of myriad subjects related to the career alternatives," he says. "Again, having several options, allowing an individual to pick and choose from the framework presented, is better than the very specific suggestions one may encounter in an outplacement clinic."

As he nears the end of his career, Paul hopes his binder will add to his legacy: "I find that I wish to be remembered both for the fact that I worked well and collaboratively, and as someone who was available for help when it was requested.

Perusal of my binder or an e-mail shipment of several articles is a legacy I am proud to leave behind."

I think this is a fantastic idea. If you're organizationally challenged like me when it comes to evergreen resource material, this system could work - and be a great resource for you, your colleagues or mentors. If you'll excuse me, I'm off to buy a binder and a three-hole punch.

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