Mentoring The Protege

In a mentor-protégé relationship, helping the protégé understand the business and industry is crucial to their development. Another opportunity lies in developing his or her ability to think critically and helping him or her determine what unique contribution he or she can make to the business.

MHEDA’s (Former) Young Executives

Ken MacDonald

Ken MacDonald

For more than a decade from the mid 1970s to the early 1990s, the MHEDA Board developed and oversaw the MHEDA Young Executives program. Designed as a way to bring young talent into the association and help them acclimate to the business world, the Young Executives program featured seminars at places like the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Notre Dame. Seminars were designed to teach a different aspect of the business—financial, equipment- specific and more. Ken MacDonald, 2002 MHEDA President and president of M & G Materials Handling Company (East Providence, RI), was one of many current industry stalwarts who participated in and benefitted from the program. “MHEDA’s Young Executives program accelerated the process of networking and industry education and provided a lot of cross-training. I gained much knowledge and understanding of how each department worked with one another and some of the critical paths that needed to be opened.”

To learn more about MHEDA Past Presidents and their experiences with mentoring, read “Presidential Perspectives On Mentoring” exclusively in The MHEDA Journal Online.

How to Think
In a well-developed mentoring relationship, the mentor has the responsibility to help the protégé learn how to think. Learning how to think goes beyond training the protégé on such things as what piece of equipment is appropriate for a given application, or how to procure and price parts or how to diagnose a hydraulic failure. While this type of guidance is important to improving the protégé’s understanding of the business, it does little to help him or her deal with more complex situations. A certain mental and emotional dexterity is required when complex employee and customer issues arise, such as difficult customer negotiations or inter-departmental turf battles. It is in these situations where the protégé can bring real value to the business by acting as the business owner’s hands and feet deeper down in the organization.

A key part of this type of development requires the mentor to help the protégé understand and empathize with different perspectives. We have many different stakeholders in our businesses—shareholders, customers, suppliers, staff and community. The protégé’s ability to understand the different objectives and points of view of all parties in a situation provides him or her with the altitude to see the entire landscape. From this higher vantage point, the protégé oftentimes is able to bring unique solutions and tends to, although not always, bring together otherwise conflicting positions. This capacity to see more can be a strategic advantage in developing win-win solutions.

So, what internal decision-making processes does the protégé currently possess? Is he or she able to hold just his or her view of a situation, or can he or she hold all the perspectives and still make informed, timely decisions? Does the protégé have the ability to communicate in a way that everyone feels heard and their issues are appropriately addressed? Does the protégé know when it’s appropriate to involve others and share the decision-making? Does he or she know in which situations to gather information to make a decision on his or her own? Does he or she understand that people have a certain “style,” mental capacity and way of seeing the world? Does he or she know how to adapt their communication style to match the audience?

It is the responsibility of the mentor to develop the staff’s skills so they know how to think through daily decision-making, as well as identify and respond to opportunities and threats to the business. In helping the protégé think through such situations, it oftentimes is best to ask questions to help them formulate different solutions. Simply telling them what to do misses the opportunity for the protégé to “exercise” their own discernment muscles.

The protégé’s ability to understand the different objectives and points of view of all parties in a situation provides him or her with the altitude to see the entire landscape.

Contribution to the Business
Another point to consider is that mentoring can help the protégé determine what unique contribution he or she is able to make to the business. We all have unique gifts, talents, experiences, educations and passions. A mentor can be a vital resource to the protégé in helping him or her see where their unique contribution lies. This is sometimes described as one’s unique “brand.”

Some things to consider are: Is the protégé technical and analytic or relational and people-oriented? Does the protégé have great tactical or strategic vision abilities? Does he or she favor a historical or future perspective? Does he or she prefer tried-and-true solutions or novel and creative ideas?

Helping the protégé discover their unique fingerprint and interests can be immensely powerful by providing them with a platform from which to lead. Conversely, it also helps them see where their natural blind spots lie. By adding this type of mentoring to the mentor-protégé relationship, the business-owner is able to share their deeper understanding and nuances on running the business, thereby leveraging themselves more effectively throughout the enterprise.

Graffy David Meet the Author
David Graffy is president of ProLift Industrial Equipment, located in Louisville, Kentucky, and on the Web at www.proliftequipment.com.

Material Handling Equipment Distributors Association