As leaders of in-house legal departments, we should all care about creating an environment where effective mentoring is possible. Successful leaders of in-house legal teams focus on the personal growth of individual team members, but successful leaders also focus on the personal growth of the legal team as a whole. When done effectively, mentoring can benefit all in-house lawyers regardless of experience level and can play an important part in developing a strong legal team which, in turn, can contribute to the overall success of the organization.
Over the course of my professional career, I have participated — as a mentee and as a mentor — in many mentorship programs. While I have valued those formal mentoring programs and the relationships that resulted from them, I have valued most those mentoring relationships that formed outside of any formal organized program. These informal mentoring relationships have developed and grown over time without conscious effort. Because of that natural human tendency to seek guidance, I have learned from others, and I have supported the growth and development of those who have surrounded me.
What Allows This To Happen?
When individuals work in a supportive environment, it is possible to connect with other individuals with whom you can share interests and with whom you can have mutual respect. It is in these environments where mentoring relationships flourish and grow.
When Does This Happen?
Shared goals and interests. When individuals within a group share common goals and interests, mentoring relationships can form organically. Within any group, there are often individuals who naturally assume leadership roles. Those individuals who assume those roles often offer guidance, support, and advice. When these individuals are willing to provide that support and guidance, others in the group naturally begin gravitating toward those leaders for help and advice.
Mutual respect. When individuals within a group respect each other’s skills and knowledge, they are more likely to seek guidance and mentoring. Mutual respect fosters an environment where people are open to sharing and receiving knowledge, leading to mentoring relationships.
Supportive group environment. When individuals find themselves in a positive and supportive group environment, individuals within that group may feel encouraged to help each other. In such an environment, mentoring relationships can naturally develop, with experienced members offering guidance to those who are less experienced or knowledgeable.
Who Serves In The Role Of Mentor In This Supportive Environment?
It is not always who you may think. Mentors are not always older, more experienced professionals at the highest levels of the organization. As Ashley Herd, founder of Manager Method, recently shared on her YouTube channel, you “don’t have to look ‘up’ to find people who will give you the best advice, support, and leadership.”
In her insightful video, Ashley explored the unconventional, yet powerful, realm of mentorship and shared a personal experience that sheds light on why the best mentor might just have an “assistant” title rather than a “chief” title.
How Can This Happen?
People have diverse perspectives. Different people bring diverse perspectives to the table. Sometimes, people at the same level or even below can offer unique viewpoints that those in higher positions might miss.
Personal connection exists at all levels. Support and understanding can come from people regardless of title or rank who are personally connected to you, to your situation, or have faced similar challenges.
Leadership exists regardless of title or rank. Leadership is not confined to specific levels within an organization. Leadership skills can be demonstrated by anyone who shows initiative, guides others, and inspires positive change.
Emotional intelligence exists at all levels. People with high emotional intelligence can provide excellent support and advice. Empathy, understanding, and the ability to relate to others’ emotions are qualities that can exist at any level.
If you are interesting in rethinking the traditional mentorship paradigm, check out my recent LinkedIn posts or find more content on this topic on Ashley Herd’s TikTok (@managermethod) and Instagram (@managermethod).
Lisa Lang is an in-house lawyer and thought leader who is passionate about all things in-house. She has recently launched a website and blog Why This, Not That™ (www.lawyerlisalang.com ) to serve as a resource for in-house lawyers. You can e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org , connect with her on LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/lawyerlisalang/) or follow her on Twitter (@lang_lawyer).