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New Business School research has found that career mentorship is most successful for mentees who are empathetic and able to understand the perspectives of others.

In particular, high-performers who are able to properly understand supervisory mentors’ thinking, avoid misunderstandings and understand the perspectives of others, are mostly like to receive career mentoring.

The team behind the study

Dr Janey Zheng, Assistant Professor of Leadership, carried out this research alongside colleagues from Tongji University, Nanjing University and the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Dr Zheng and colleagues wanted to understand when and why high performers may fail to obtain a mentor, and the types of characteristics that affect the successfulness of mentoring for high-performance protégés.

How the research was carried out

Two different studies took place. The first involved over 200 employees and their paired supervisors at a Chinese logistics company. The second was an experimental study with 192 full-time employees in China who were recruited via a survey platform.

In both studies, they were asked to read various scenarios to understand their willingness to provide career mentoring to the subordinate in the scenarios, with various levels of perspective-taking and task performance in the workplace.

Perspective is essential

Mentors may tend to choose high performing protégés, but the research suggests that the benefits of this for the supervisor is significantly weakened if the protégé is unable to understand the perspectives of others. One reason for this is because supervisors perceive more cost than benefits mentoring such protégés.

“Career mentoring is not only beneficial to protégés but to mentors and their organisations too. It can help boost protégés’ pay, promotions and career development, but can also be used as a vital tool by organisations for employee retention, greater team performance and transformational leadership. Therefore, it makes sense for both organisations and employees to invest time in it.

However, a lack of perspective taking by protégés risks jeopardising all these benefits, therefore it’s key that organisations greater manage this mentoring relationship and ensure that the right employees are chosen and developed through mentoring.” Dr Janey Zheng

Weighing up cost versus benefit is key

The findings show that before mentoring young, high-performing employees, it’s important supervisors conduct a cost-benefit analysis on the protégé and their characteristics. This ensures mentoring is beneficial to both the protégé and the company.

Dr Zheng and colleagues suggest that all employees, especially high performers, should also intentionally develop their perspective-taking competence in order to reduce their supervisors’ relational concerns and obtain career mentoring.

Organisations should also create training and more opportunities for employees to better understand each other’s roles, perspectives and values to advance high-performers’ careers and improve collaboration in organisations.

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