POLITICAL ACUMEN TOOLKIT:
MENTORSHIP

Mentorship, formal or informal, is an important part of career development. Learning from those who have real-life expertise gained through years of hands-on experience is not only valuable but essential to advancing our career pursuits. Indeed, many CAOs who profess to be successful often attribute some of that success to building a strong relationship with someone they could confide in and learn from. For this reason, and others, mentorship has become a focus of the professional development plans of many individuals.

It is through mentorship that we learn the subtle art of workplace politics and skills that cannot be acquired through books. Political acumen is one skill that falls in this category. Working in municipal management and leadership requires learning how to read between the lines and be ahead of the curve. Bouncing ideas off of mentors and learning from their experience is one way of adding this skill set to your resume.

In this section, we look at some of the tools you can use to build strong mentor-mentee relationships. We also connect you to CAMA’s Mentorship Forum, a website that we hope becomes the go-to networking site for CAOs and Senior Municipal Administrators across Canada. We have developed this forum as a tool to connect those who work in Canadian municipalities so that we can learn from each other and advance municipal governance throughout the Country. By providing a venue that fosters mentorship between experienced municipal managers and those who aspire to the role, we can help ensure the municipal leaders of tomorrow are well-prepared to take on the challenging and rewarding work of leading local government.

Topics covered in this section include:

Building a Mentor/Mentee Relationship

While some mentor-mentee relationships evolve naturally, often they are formed at the request of someone who is looking for guidance in their career. For some, the idea of going out and finding someone to mentor you may seem daunting, but the rewards of this endeavour far outweigh the effort. Here are some best practices in building mentor-mentee relationships that work for both parties.

Ask for recommendations: There are mentorship programs of various kinds across Canada, often connected with municipal education programs, that can help match you with a potential mentor. However, you are more likely to find a useful match by doing your own research and approaching someone yourself. If you are interested in finding a mentor but are unsure who to choose, ask around. Talk to respected colleagues and let them know you are looking for a mentor; ask if they have any recommendations.

Be clear about your goals: When approaching a potential mentor, be clear about what you are looking for, including the areas you need guidance in and the type of relationship you envision. Is this a short-term arrangement to get support as you navigate a challenging scenario? Is this an on-going relationship that will allow you to bounce ideas off of an experienced individual, garner insight into an issue, or stay accountable in your career development? Are you looking for someone to help you get to the “next level” or are you looking for advice in a particular subject matter area? How regularly do you want to talk or meet? Do you prefer to meet in person or are you okay with phone calls? Know exactly what it is you want and how much time you are asking the potential mentor to contribute.

If you are the mentor being approached, it is equally important for you to be upfront about what you are willing to offer. What are your time restrictions? What areas are you able to effectively provide support? How do you see the relationship unfolding?

Stay connected: As with any relationship, mentorship is a two-way street of communication. It is as essential for a mentor to check in and provide encouragement, as it is for the mentee to report back and stay accountable to their mentor.

Be respectful: As the American Psychological Association (APA) notes in their Introduction to Mentoring, “respect is a cornerstone of the mentoring process.” This may seem obvious, but it is crucial for both the mentor and the mentee to be considerate of each other in their interactions and treat each other professionally and ethically. Whether this is respect for each individual’s background and opinions, or simply the act of valuing the other person’s time, being polite is the key to developing a positive and fruitful relationship.

Know when to move on: It is common to have multiple mentor-mentee relationships throughout your career. Indeed, it is part of the natural evolution of a mentorship relationship for it to end or evolve into something new (friendship, colleagues, etc.) when the original goals are met. Either party can be the one to signal this transition when the time has come. It is also beneficial to the mentee to develop a network and find different advisors with a wide range of perspectives, skill sets, and experiences to further build their toolbox.

Additional Resources:

The Role of a Mentor

The role of a mentor is to provide information, guidance, and encouragement to an individual, specifically concerning how they might approach various situations, advance their career, or build their skill set. Inherent in the mentor-mentee relationship is the assumption that the mentor will help the mentee develop their career in some way, whether it be through their work performance or professional development. However, the benefits of this relationship flow to the mentor as much as the mentee.

In 2006, a presidential task force was organized by the President of the American Psychological Association (APA) to examine mentorship relationships. While the value to mentees is apparent, research by the APA has found that mentors can also benefit from these relationships through the gratification felt from shaping the next generation of leaders. Not only that, mentoring acts as a way to continue your own career development and learn more about new issues and perspectives that are important to the field you work in.

How to Mentor
Mentors are usually more experienced and further along in their careers than mentees, and therefore it can be tempting to accidentally fall into an “I know best” mindset in working with less-experienced individuals. However, as mentorship, leadership, and coaching books all reveal, the key to working with other individuals in this capacity is not to tell them what to do, but rather help them to discover the answers to the questions themselves. As the bestselling Canadian book, A Tale of Two Employees by Dr. Chris Bart (2003) demonstrates, mentorship is about helping those you are working with to understand the what, why, and how of a situation by guiding them to find their own solutions.

Mentorship is really about leadership in a one-on-one relationship. Leadership is never about having the authority to tell someone what to do but rather demonstrating and inspiring others toward a course of action. In The Leadership Challenge by Kouzes and Posner (2017), the authors identify “five practices of exemplary leadership.” These practices include modelling the way, inspiring a shared vision, challenging the process, enabling others to act, and encouraging the heart.

In other words, effective leaders, and by extension mentors:

  • Lead by example and demonstrate effective values that achieve success.
  • Help others envision their successes and career possibilities by sharing in their ambitions. Whether this is as simple as seeing the other side of a challenging situation or believing that it is possible to become the City Manager of the largest municipality in Canada, showing your interest in their vision is crucial to motivating a mentee.
  • Challenge assumptions and identify areas for improvement. Part of the role of being a mentor is helping someone achieve career growth. Respectfully providing constructive criticism is important to the role, as is encouraging mentees to be innovative and take risks, when needed.
  • Support mentees in developing the confidence to take action. By providing advice that comes from experience, mentors can play a significant role in giving an individual the courage to take the needed steps to address a problem or achieve success.
  • Celebrate progress. Recognizing mentees who achieve their goals strengthens the mentorship relationship, builds trust, and encourages continued effort.

When working with mentees, it is also important to adapt your knowledge to the individual. Remember, not everyone will approach a scenario exactly as you did in the past, and your mentee will have their own professional style. Provide advice in a way that allows the mentee to understand it within their own context and modify it to suit their personality and situation. Doing this creates the opportunity for them to synthesize the information you have to offer with their knowledge base and add a unique new skill set to their toolbox.

Every mentorship connection will be unique, and there is no specific formula for success. However, one book that provides some insight into how to approach the mentor-mentee relationship is The Power of TED by David Emerald (2010). The Power of TED is the story of a mentor, Ted, and his mentee, David, and the practical advice Ted offers David to support him through a challenging time. While this could be taken as a self-help book teaching people how to empower themselves, it demonstrates many of the qualities of being an effective mentor. Not only does it show how to empower those who seek advice from you to take effective action in their own lives, it also highlights the true nature of a coach as someone who supports others through listening and asking questions rather than taking control and trying to fix the situation themselves.

Additional Resources:

 

The Role of a Mentee

A mentee is someone who enters a mentorship relationship with the objective to learn and grow professionally. As the American Psychological Society has discovered, individuals who have mentors are more likely to earn more, perform better and progress faster in their careers. While it may seem like the primary responsibility of a mentee is to find someone to work with, there is a lot more that can be done by the mentee to build a positive relationship that creates value not only for them but also for their mentor. Here are some tips on how to be a good mentee:

Be prepared. Show up to your mentor meetings knowing what you want to talk about and the questions you want to have answered. Being prepared shows you respect your mentor’s time and are receiving value from the relationship. While communication is a two-way street in the mentorship relationship, it is still up to the mentee to take the lead in maintaining contact and scheduling meetings.

Be open. By asking someone to be your mentor, you are telling them that you are open to hearing the feedback they have to offer. While this does not mean you have to agree with everything they say, it is important to be receptive to their suggestions and constructive criticism. If they only agreed with you, they would not be adding value to your professional development.

Be realistic. While we all hope to receive that one piece of advice that will make all the difference, it is important to remember that your mentor is there to provide support, not fix the problem. Their role is to act as a sounding board, offer perspective, and provide advice from their past experiences. However, it is up to you how you take the information they provide and act upon it.

Be punctual. Mentors have offered time out of their schedules to support you in your career. For this reason, it is important to be punctual and respectful of their time.

Be inquisitive. In addition to knowing the questions you want to ask your mentor, do not be afraid to ask for clarification or to dive deeper into the conversation. Showing your genuine interest will help build the relationship, and meaningful discussion will lead to greater learning.

Be thankful. In addition to the obvious and thanking your mentor for their time and advice, gratitude can also be shown by taking the time to provide updates and mentioning where their feedback was useful along the way.

To encourage mentorship in Canadian municipalities, CAMA has compiled career advice from nine experienced and respected municipal administrators across Canada. Cultivating Leadership: A Guide for the Next Generation in Local Government is a valuable resource providing information on the challenges CAOs and Senior Administrators face, the requirements of the job, and advice for those who are interested in entering municipal leadership. This document is the perfect starting point for anyone who would like to progress their career in municipal management but is unsure where to start.

Additional Resources:

Mentorship & Political Acumen

Often, the advice given by a mentor to a mentee is less procedural and more directional. That is to say, it relates more to navigating the politics of an organization or an industry and advancing one’s career, than how to do one’s day-to-day job. For this reason, mentorship is a critical component of learning political acumen.

We have included a PowerPoint presentation as a downloadable resource for CAMA members to use as part of their mentor-mentee relationships. The presentation covers every topic included in the Political Acumen Toolkit and can be used by CAOs or Senior Administrators to support the professional development of their management teams or aspiring leaders. Many parts of this presentation can also be used to support Council Orientation sessions on various topics such as Council Ethics, Social Media, and more. We hope you will find it to be a valuable resource to inspire the future leaders of local government in Canada.

Downloadable Resources:

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© Canadian Association of Municipal Administrators

Canadian Association Municipal Administrators
PO Box 128, Station A
Fredericton, NB E3B 4Y2
CANADA

CAMA is a non-profit association open to all senior managers dedicated to improving municipalities in Canada.

Canadian Association Municipal Administrators
PO Box 128, Station A
Fredericton, NB E3B 4Y2
CANADA

© Canadian Association of Municipal Administrators