Each of us has been helped in numerous ways by those who came before us. We, in turn, each have a responsibility for the next generation, for those who follow us. Mentoring younger planners can be an important way to advance the profession and create a generation able to replace us as we slow down in our business lives or sell our companies and practices to others. Having professionals capable of following behind us is also critical to our clients' needs for ongoing advice and service.
I own and manage a financial planning firm of 17 people in San Francisco. While I'm the boss, I also try to be a mentor to my employees. The most important part of my responsibilities is working with the people in my firm--hiring the best people, motivating them each to do their own unique, best work, and seeing that they grow in areas where they need help. Success comes from making the work meaningful and enjoyable for each of them, helping them to do and be better at what they want for themselves and their lives. Each of them brings different goals, different styles and different talents to the mix; my job is customizing what I do and how I do it for each of them so that each one can have the opportunity to be their best.
I coached Little League teams for eight years, and we won a few league championships. My favorites were the 10 and 11 year olds. Each year we picked new players and picked up a whole new set of challenges. What were the ingredients of success? It was important to make the games and practices fun. It was important to give out many more compliments than criticisms. (Current research suggests the ratio should be at least 5:1, whether you're talking to your ballplayers, your employees or your spouse.) It was important to teach fundamental skills so their respective talents improved throughout the season. I tried to set each kid up for situations in which they could succeed, but also to challenge each of them, while giving them the tools to grow and improve. Coaching is just a more intensive and sometimes more frequent form of mentoring.
I'm the father of two--a son, 24 and a daughter, 22. I'm certainly not a perfect parent, nor did I do all of the following particularly well, but I've learned much from the process of parenting. My children are very different--unique styles, skills and interests and of course, their respective genders create their own differences. The choices I tried to make each day and each moment in caring for and raising them were derived from my vision for what I hoped they would become: fully functioning, happy, caring, productive human beings, comfortable with themselves and living in integrity. When I was unhappy with something they had done, I tried to remember first to ask myself what action would best help move them towards that vision I wanted for them as adults. Of course the appropriate response differed with each event and each child. It has been important to let them try new things and to let them fail, and hopefully, to learn from their mistakes. My role has been to love them, to encourage them, to support them in their choices, to help them learn to make good decisions, to help build their self-esteem and to help them develop the ability to make good choices as they proceed through life.
Parenting, coaching and running a company are not mentoring, and I don't mean to confuse them. But success in each shares many common traits:
K Respecting the junior person's individuality and customizing my responses to reflect each one's unique attributes
K Motivating them to continually grow and develop, each in their own way
K Passing out lots of compliments and support
K Criticizing them--but only when done carefully, privately and constructively
K Helping them develop the tools needed for success
K Caring about them and wanting the best for them
K Having a vision for what "success" would be for each of them and acting consistently in support of that vision; if they have their own vision, supporting that
K Trying to encourage a fun environment
K Allowing them to make mistakes, so they have more to learn from
The Practice of Mentoring
Mentoring--from the Greek word meaning "enduring"--most often occurs between a junior person and someone who is substantially more senior. Through continued involvement, the senior person offers support, guidance and assistance as the younger person goes through difficult periods, faces new challenges, works to correct earlier problems, or simply tries to develop into a high-quality professional.
Primarily, mentoring occurs in two ways: natural mentoring and planned mentoring. Natural mentoring arises through friendship, collegiality, teaching, coaching and counseling. Such situations often come about informally in the day-to-day course of activities involving both parties. It might just be a one-time event or a series of discussions over time. In some cases, the relationship can evolve into a more formalized, goals-oriented affair (usually initiated by a request from the junior person).
In contrast, planned mentoring occurs through structured programs in which mentors and mentees are selected and matched through a formal process. In well designed planned mentoring programs, there are goals, schedules, training (for mentors and mentees), and even evaluation. Mentors inspire their mentees to pursue their dreams as well as help them develop the tools and skills they'll need to achieve success. While there may be similarities between being a boss and a mentor, mentors are virtually never an employee's boss; in fact, often the mentor isn't even in the same organization. Experience suggests that new employees who are paired with a mentor are twice as likely to remain in their job as those who are not mentored.
Within our profession, organizations like FPA, NAPFA, IMCA and the PFS section of the AICPA have the junior and (more) senior members it takes to make a planned mentoring program work, either on a national scale or just within local chapters. Imagine a "Mentoring Fair" similar to a career day where senior and junior members have an opportunity to meet and, when appropriate, agree to a mentoring relationship. (NexGen and "the Rat Pack" did something like this a year or two ago under FPA auspices but was not able to achieve any critical mass.) Alternatively, you might imagine an organization sponsoring something like "Match.com" where interested senior and junior people could post information about themselves and their interests in order to facilitate good pairings. (The FPA does something like this now, but it has not been widely accepted.) The organization could also sponsor training resources such as conferences, conference calls and newsletters for those who agree to be mentors.
If you are a young professional, you inevitably face many hurdles and challenges as you try to advance in the profession and within your company. What could be better than having someone to help you avoid the shoals and sail successfully to your desired end point? Wouldn't it be great to have help from someone who has no stake in the outcome except their concern for you?
It's worth noting that a mentor doesn't even have to be in your own field. Most of the issues and challenges of moving ahead in a profession or within an organization are shared by many outside the financial planning world. If you'd like help, don't be shy about approaching someone you trust and respect with a request to be your mentor. Everyone likes a compliment, and such a request is a huge compliment--even when it is declined. Be prepared with a plan--your goal for the mentoring relationship, the frequency and length of the meetings or conversations, the kinds of topics you want help with and the probable length of the commitment.
And the benefits go both ways: Mentoring is fun and gratifying. Personally, I have grown from each experience. The best way to learn something is to try to teach it to others. Helping to develop others has added to my skills. In addition, your organization will benefit in multiple ways from a spirit of learning and development. Your employees will get better over time, and the more capable they become, the lighter your own load will be. Finally, as you build your staff, your clients will be better served by having many resources in your firm to call upon--not just you.
We all occasionally provide informal mentoring to others. A planned mentoring program can help your younger employees improve their contributions to your firm and raise the degree of their professionalism. Try having a meeting with your younger people to discuss the possibilities and introduce them to potential mentors. If you are really ambitious, consider working with your professional organization to set up a way to offer mentoring to its younger members. We will all benefit.
Norman M. Boone, MBA, CFP, is the founder and president of Mosaic Financial Partners, Inc. a San Francisco-based fee-only financial planning and investment firm. He is also co-creator of IPS AdvisorPro, an award-winning Web-based Investment Policy Statement generation software solution for advisors.
Advice for the Advisor
If you have an interest in learning more about mentoring or improving your mentoring skills, the following should be on your bookshelf:
Kaye, Beverly; Jordan-Evans, Sharon (2005), Love 'Em or Lose Em: Getting Good People to Stay (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.).
Daloz, L. A. (1999), Mentor: Guiding the Journey of Adult learners. (Jossey-Bass).
Kram, K. E. (1985), Mentoring at Work: Developmental Relationships in Organizational Life. (Scott, Foresman).
Huang, Chungliang and Jerry Lynch (1995), Mentoring The TAO of Giving and Receiving Wisdom (Harper).