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Why not have a formal mentoring program?

I recently posted a question for discussion on my Twitter and Facebook regarding formalizing the mentoring process. Most of the respondents stated most mentoring was informal. One of the respondents even stated that it shouldn’t be a formalized process. I must say that I agree that informal mentoring is effective, however the business world has been using formal mentoring for a long time with great success. I suggest that if the fire service were to establish formal mentoring it would help with the development of employees and leaders.

The business world has established formal mentoring programs that work very well. They will tell you these programs benefit the mentee, mentor and the company as a whole. In business, mentoring is a tool used to develop employees and provide guidance. Mentees receive encouragement and support form a senior leader within their organization. The mentor gives advice on developing skills and ideas. They encourage professional development and lead the mentee to become a productive member of the organization.

Mentors receive as much from the relationship as the mentee. Mentors see and hear new ideas and perspectives, which can be especially helpful when trying to integrate a new generation of employees into the organization. Mentors feel as if they are making a difference with the organization by helping the next generation. Mentors enhance their leadership skills and are held to a higher standard by the mentee.

The company or organization benefits from the mentoring relationships by developing a culture of personal and professional growth. The mentors, whom oftentimes are the senior leaders develop higher skill in leadership and coaching, which then in turn translates to how they deal with their regular tasks.

The Small Business Administration is partnered with SCORE ( an organization designed to mentor entrepreneurs in developing small businesses. The mentors are a sounding board for new business owners that help them start and grow a business.

So, if it works so well in the business world, why wouldn’t we want to follow a similar model in the fire and emergency services? Every organization has that high performer that is look for another way to give back. What about the respected retiree form your organization look for an opportunity to stay connected to the profession they love? I know a few retirees that miss their “second family” and would be excellent mentors to bring back to the organization.

Here are a couple of ideas to start a mentoring program for your fire or emergency services department. Start with a recruit class, and assign mentors to the recruits. Depending on the size of the class and the availability of mentors, small groups of recruits could be assigned a mentor that would stay with them through their probationary period. At the end of probation, they could mutually decide that they want to continue the relationship. Newly promoted officers could benefit from having a mentor that has been there and done that in the past that can provide reinforcing support or guidance on treading through the path of establishing a successful transition to formal leader.

Think of the opportunity for the mentee to receive advice and support from a trusted mentor. They may not feel completely speaking with their crew or officer about their challenges. The mentors have the opportunity to learn about the new generation of personnel.

At least from my perspective, having a formal mentoring program has many benefits for the organization. The personal and professional development of everyone involved in the program will only benefit the organization. The retention of personnel should be enhanced because our people will know they are valued because the organization is making an effort to support and develop them.

I am personally involved in the TeamMates Mentoring Program ( Tom and Nancy Osborne founded the TeamMates Mentoring Program in 1991 in an effort to provide support and encouragement to school aged youth. The goal of the program is to see youth graduate from high school and pursue post-secondary education. To reach this goal, youth meet one hour per week with a caring adult who serves as a mentor. Mentors are volunteers from the community who have dedicated themselves to making a difference in the life of a young person. Mentors give youth a sense of hope, purpose and vision. The TeamMates Mentoring Program currently provides a mentor for over 7,000 youth across Nebraska and Iowa, as well as in San Diego, California.


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