There are many ways in which a person can learn and develop through
out his or her career. Having or being a mentor provides an
interactive and custom-designed education. Mentoring offers
invaluable benefits to both individuals, as well as to the
organization that employs them.
What Is a Mentorship?
When a person takes the time to share the gift of knowledge and
experience with another, they share the gift of a lifetime.
The mentor-mentee relationship, in its most basic form, is one
person taking the time and effort to share knowledge, experience,
and wisdom with another person. Mentorships can be formal or
informal, but usually they are broken into two main categories.
1. Senior-to-junior mentorship. In this type of mentorship, an
up-andcoming leader is advised and counseled by a more experienced
individual. The relationship is based on developing the junior
individual, but often the senior individual learns and benefits
just as much from the mentorship.
2.Peer-to-peer mentorship. This mentorship is common among students
and serves many purposes. Students pair up to check each others
work, thus leading to real-time feedback of errors and mistakes.
They also are able to learn leadership and team working skills,
often solidifying a recent lesson as they teach it to another
Both formal and informal mentorships occur in the federal
government. Informal mentorships often occur via networking events:
co-workers, students, and other participants develop relationships
and can learn and grow from these connections. Formal mentorships
have specific expectations and guidelines, which provide
consistency and dependability throughout the relationship and
ensure that both sides benefit from the partnership.
For example, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)
has a formal mentorship program that can be either peer to-peer or
senior-to-junior. This program gives mentees a list of possible
mentors to choose from based on the preferences they enter into a
computer matching system. More about this particular program can be
found at https://mentoring.hhs.gov/. The site also gives a thorough
summary of mentoring related reading materials.
The Office of Personal Managements (OPM) new Pathways Program,
which seeks to bring new talent into government, primarily calls
for senior-to-junior formal mentorships. One can be both a mentor
and a mentee at once; also, there is no age limit for either role.
(See p. 45 sidebar for tips to senior leaders on preparing to be a
mentor and deriving knowledge from the experience.)
The Pathways Program
The Pathways Program will be the main tool agencies use to channel
new people into the government workforce pipeline. There will be
three pathways: the Internship Program for current students; the
Recent Graduates Program for those within two years of graduation
from a higher education institution, trade school, or PhD program;
and the Presidential Management Fellows (PMF) Program for those
with a masters degree or higher.
The goal of the Pathways Program is to recruit more students and
recent graduates with higher education degrees into service for the
federal government. Historically, these groups have been at a
disadvantage to enter public service because the federal recruiting
process emphasizes work experience, which students and recent
graduates often lack.
OPM proposed the requirement of assigning a mentor to each new hire
through the Recent Graduates Program and the PMF Program. The only
difference between the mentorship required for these two programs
will be that the mentor for PMF individuals must rank at the Senior
Executive Service (SES) level. The guidance and requirements for
these mentorships is still not finalized, and it is yet to be
determined whether they will be set by OPM or by each agency
individually. What is known is that there will be an influx of new
employees in need of mentors.
Whether enough federal leaders are ready to be mentors remains to
be seen. However, many federal employees have a strong sense of
mission. Helping prepare the next generation to fill future
critical roles is a great way to accomplish that mission.
Young Feds Desire Mentors
In 2011 Young Government Leaders (YGL), a professional organization
of more than 2,000 men and women employed by or for the government
who are young in their service or fresh in their perspective,
conducted two surveys that touched on the topic of mentorships.
When asked what should be included in the Pathways Program, 78
percent of 372 respondents thought formal mentorships should be
part of the program. Another 53 percent thought informal
mentorships should be in the program.
How effective are formal mentorship programs? Seventy-nine percent
of respondents said that they were effective or very effective.
This indicates that young people in government desire to have a
mentor. One individual noted: Having a network of people who have
been down the road before and [having] access to long-time agency
leaders who can serve as mentors is essential for guiding fellows
or interns through this type of program and retaining their
employment long term.
Another respondent wrote: There needs to be a formal mentor
program. My initial mentor was not qualified for the role, and
performed abysmally. I had serious doubts as to whether or not I
would continue working at my agency, that is, until I got a new
mentor who actually took the role seriously. I cannot emphasize
enough how important mentors are, especially in the first few
While the Pathways survey explored young feds take on mentorships,
the PMF survey, with 225 YGL respondents, looked at the actual
practice of mentorships. In response to, Does your agency require
or recommend a mentor, 45 percent of respondents said yes. In
addition, for the query, Do you have a mentor at your agency, 39
percent said they have one, and of those, 92 percent thought that
it was helpful or very helpful. This seems to indicate that the
vast majority of federal employees with mentors benefit greatly
from this relationship, but not nearly enough have one, either due
to their lack of pursuit of mentors, of agency support, or a
Benefits of Mentorships
Everyone has a transferable commodity: knowledge. Sharing your
unique expertise and making introductions for some one creates a
lasting legacy. Marsha Blackburn
In todays climate, training and education budgets are very tight;
therefore, learning situations must be found through other avenues
besides the traditional classroom setting. In a June 2011 T+D
magazine feature article entitled Conversations With Mentoring
Leaders, Randy Emelo identified five reasons why organizations are
investing in mentoring as a major learning strategy.
- Mentoring is important. It uses the potential of the entire
workforce to create a connected cadre of wisdom.
- Mentoring is flexible. It can be used to meet a wide array of
needs, both personal and organizational.
- Mentoring is effective. It affects both the retention and
development of talent. Mentoring allows people to share
organizational knowledge across the enterprise in a way that lets
them actually apply the learning to their jobs.
- Mentoring is scalable. Technology is bringing the world
together. Mentoring keeps learning relational and effectivea
powerful combination that supports global usability while still
applying personal context for learning.
- Mentoring builds depth. Mentoring relationships across silos
creates a broader understanding of the entire enterprise. The
long-term development of a rich circle of advisors assures that
each leader is well informed and well supported.
Other ways in which participating in a mentorship is advantageous
to the mentor include
- Mentoring enhances skills. If you dont use it, you lose it is a
common refrain. Avoid this pitfall by sharing ones knowledge with
others. In addition to keeping up technical skills, mentoring
develops management abilities, patience, and leadership experience.
- Mentoring encourages introspection and growth. Mentoring is a
two-way street. Both the mentor and mentee develop their
interpersonal and intrapersonal skills throughout the relationship
and secure an opportunity to reflect on or consider future career
- Mentoring provides a way to give back. As a mentor, people can
earn another persons respect and leave behind a legacy to their
organization. The agency is able to minimize the brain drain of
retirement and continue with a pipeline of skilled workers who
carry the shared knowledge of past generations. Contribution
through a mentorship is a win-win-win situation for the mentee,
mentor, and organization.
- Mentoring exposes new thoughts. Mentors may have a lifetime of
experience in a field, but true experts know that there is always
more to learn. Participating in a mentoring relationship allows the
mentor to see his or her profession through fresh eyes, and perhaps
opens new perspective.
- Mentorship provides professional satisfaction. Mentors have the
reward of seeing their colleague learn and grow under their
Tips for Being a Federal Mentor
Being a government mentor has many advantages, but it also can be
challenging at times. There are many resources. Dorothy Menelas,
HHS mentoring program manager, shares these six tips on how to be a
- Provide a vision. Bring to bear the ability to see not merely
what is but what can be, and allow the mentee to buy into the
- Plan it. Bring long-term planning and visioning to the
mentoring process. Mentors can help menteesweigh the consequences
of decisions they face.
- Break it down. Help guide reasonable long- and
- Give timely feedback. Provide as much real-time feedback as
possible. Provide words of encouragement and caution when
- Offer timely assistance and guidance. If you have an idea of
what needs to be done and a way to do it, share your knowledge.
- Commit to action. Follow up on agreed-upon activities.
Most future leaders believe in mentorships with the components YGL
and other agency representatives have outlined. And with the new
Pathways Program, there will be new employees who need quality
mentors. With mentors on board to provide vision and perspectives
on the mission, a new generation of public servants can be prepared
to face tomorrows challenges and inspire the next generation.