How to be a project manager mentor

Mentoring and coaching have been buzzwords within management for many years. However, traditional mentoring methods are not as efficient or successful as they were in the past. Here are some foundational pointers that might help you with mentoring in your organization.

illustrated lightbulb with word Mentoring
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I was talking with a colleague several years ago over lunch and the subject of coaching and mentoring came up during the conversation.

“I wouldn’t be where I am without the people who poured their wisdom and knowledge into me,” he said, staring into his cappuccino. Looking over at a group of 20-somethings, he shook his head. “I’d like to do that for the next generation, but I don’t know how to start.”

Mentoring and coaching have been buzzwords within management for many years, and some amazing books and articles have been written to help us with this necessity in today’s project-based workplace. However, traditional mentoring methods are not as efficient or successful as they were in the past. That’s why my friend was a bit afraid to try mentoring the next generation. Many, but not all, veteran project managers think that the younger members of our “tribe” aren’t interested in being mentored because they already have a mentor named “Google.” That’s not the opinion of this author, or many other leadership gurus.

Oxford professor Karl Moore wrote in Forbes magazine:

We believe that Millennials are typically more interested than previous generations in finding a mentor. They have grown up with the notion that one must constantly seek the advice of another, and social media has put this notion on steroids.

 Jeremy Cioara, my fellow CBT Nuggets trainer, is constantly mentoring his staff at his business: “On a scale of 1-10, I give it an 8. You don’t know what you don’t know until somebody comes and shows you the way.”

So how do you start? I have found a few foundational pointers that might help you with mentoring in your organization. These pointers helped me build some strong relationships with younger professionals who are pursuing project management and IT service management careers.

1. Understand their motives. Millennials will seek mentoring for a variety of reasons. Growing as a human being is a big part of that, but they also are naturally curious. It could be that they are just looking for someone to help them better their hobbies, which in turn, benefits their personal life. Once you’ve accomplished that, you might be in a stronger position to help them increase their knowledge in other areas.

2. Be the “Search Engine Enhancement.” Because they have access to quite a bit of information at their fingertips, you want to become the filter they can use to weed out the bad from the good. Just think about how the Internet can serve up bad information, as well as good bits. I’ll never forget how my grandfather helped me when buying my first new car. Even though I had done a huge amount of research into pricing, what the dealer really paid for the car, etc., it was my grandfather’s understanding of sales and how to motivate people that brought the price down even further. Only reading the ads in the paper would have left me paying a lot more!

3. Involve food. Having coffee and just building relationships with people has led to mentoring and coaching opportunities. Plus, it also becomes a two-way street! I have learned quite a bit from those who are younger than me, and that can be true in your mentoring relationships as well.

No matter what, get started. Work with your senior management to start mentoring programs such as “brown bag lunch talks.” Or take that project that is full of Generation X’ers or Millennials, and just be available in general. Being the bridge to the next generation is one of the keys to your success as well.

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