The Case for Mentoring: Meeting Attorneys Where They Are
“Meet people where they are.”
By now, it’s a phrase everyone has probably heard in one setting or another. It’s a sentence that I have running through my head on any given day or week. It’s a mantra of sorts when we consider retention, mentoring, and hiring; all of which are hot topics for law firms right now.
In what we’re trying to convince ourselves is the post-COVID world, finding, hiring, and retaining talent is an ongoing struggle regardless of industry. What I’ve noticed through my practice and in working with associates is mentoring, or “sponsorship” depending on your chosen nomenclature, is a way to connect these concepts while creating more meaningful bonds between seasoned workers and newer employees; or in my case seasoned partners and new associates.
As humans, an essential need and want is to be seen, heard, and acknowledged. We look for this in all our relationships, and work relationships are no different. Mentoring is an investment in shared knowledge, experience, and long-term success. The emphasis is on investment. Meeting people where they are requires both the mentor and mentee to invest the knowledge, experience, and time required to succeed in shared long-term goals. Reaching these long-term goals often requires a shift in perception of the function of business relationships and the nature of how we communicate with each other.
Meeting people where they are allows them to reach their full potential, which is the business case for dedicating more time and energy to mentoring. An associate reaching their full potential is an associate succeeding in their long-term goals and being a productive member of the organization. When thinking about mentoring and sponsorship, a good place to start is to meet people where they are. Bridging the gap between your own expectations as a mentor and your mentee’s lived experiences. It means listening with intention and giving thoughtful feedback. This is an investment that has the potential for a high yield, for both the mentor and mentee.
Tip for Mentors
As a mentor, here are a few things I’ve learned and put into practice in my mentoring relationships.
- Schedule meetings regularly: With busy schedules, it often does not happen if it is not on the calendar. Be intentional with your time. And not all conversations have to be about work. Get to know each other as people.
- Set expectations for the relationship and communicate those expectations: Having clear expectations will help guide the mentoring relationship. Everyone works and receives feedback differently, so it is important to create a common understanding of the objectives from the outset.
- Be honest and vulnerable at times: It’s easy to think you need to be infallible when you are the mentor or sponsor, but sometimes being vulnerable and sharing examples of times you made mistakes gives the mentee permission to learn and grow in more meaningful ways without the fear of messing up.
- Keep an open line of communication: Communication is paramount. Building trust is essential and creating genuine and lasting relationships often leads to higher retention rates. An open line of communication creates a strong foundation for when more difficult and nuanced conversations come up.