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The Importance of Mentoring

By AICC Staff

June 4, 2019

width=400A few years ago, I was walking the floor of AICC/TAPPI SuperCorrExpo—a huge packaging industry trade fair—with my friend and sometime co-worker David Levy. As we strolled along the aisles in deep conversation, we were approached at different times by four or five 50-something-year-old men from diverse backgrounds. There was a common thread to the interaction. They all advanced with unsophisticated enthusiasm to say, “Dave Levy! Sorry, I have to interrupt. How long has it been? You know I use things I learned from you every day. [Turning to me:] Let me tell you about what this guy did for me. …” For some, he was their manager at Union Camp; for others, he was a coach or just the guy they called when they didn’t know what to do. He shared his wisdom and experience, but what they all had in common was gratitude for his time and attention. And in this way, I would count myself among them.

Today there is a prominent need for mentors, as the workforce has become bimodal. There are boomers at all levels of our companies who have knowledge and experience to share with the millennials who make up the other large group. Please treat this article as a call to all generations to share their knowledge and experience through the various forms of mentorship. Some boomers are reticent to share knowledge based on the job security they believe they hold by hoarding it. Others are unaware that anyone would be interested if they were willing to mentor. The good news, from my experience, is that a trait common to millennials is their willingness to ask questions and their attention to the answers. This is refreshing to me, a late boomer, who believed that if I did not know something, I should quietly go and do my pre-Google research on my own.

No matter your age, there is someone who can benefit from the time and knowledge that you possess. Mentoring is an important role, among the many you play. The first question to ask yourself as you prepare is whether you have the bandwidth to give this relationship the priority and time allowance that it will require. While most mentoring relationships do not take more than a couple of hours per month, it is vital that it be a priority in your schedule. If you think back to your own experience as a mentee, you will likely be grateful for many things, and the expense of the mentor’s time will be high on the list.

Those who make themselves available to mentor often choose to focus on a short-term basis regarding a particular topic. Others are open to a longer-term mentorship focused on career development. The key here is to be on the same page with the mentee. For this reason, I have assembled a structure of sorts to guide either party through the formation of a mentoring relationship. The structure is there to help set expectations, including having less structure, and prompts the parties to consider and discuss subjects that may otherwise be difficult to broach.

Finding the Right Match

A short exploratory meeting, whether in person or online, has proven to help many mentorships get off to the right start. This is a two-way interview. Discuss the area in which they desire mentoring, as well as the possible duration. Be open about either of you having the freedom to decide not to move forward following the conclusion of the meeting. If there is a better match for the person and their goals, then make the introduction and explore that option.

Setting Expectations

Consider these first meeting essentials to create an agreement that will guide your progress. My preference is to ask an open-ended question, “What’s your story?” This allows people to talk about what is most important to them. I also answer the question myself. Next, set preliminary goals. Based on these, you will be able to determine a reasonable duration of the mentorship. This is a good time to discuss your preferred method of communication between meetings, being honest about how much time you have budgeted for mentoring. Decide how often you will meet. Finally, set a date on which you will evaluate progress and decide whether to continue.

Use Available Resources

A mentor is intended to be an advisor, a coach, or a sounding board. There should not be an expectation that the mentor is a one-stop shop for resources. Brainstorm with your mentee about courses and experiences that would equip them to reach their goals. They may need to increase their technical skill, their supervisory prowess, or their emotional intelligence. They may benefit from attending a class or visiting other companies like yours. There are many such resources to be found in AICC’s Packaging School or in your community. A custom education track form is available at www.aiccbox.org to assist you. Your time, knowledge, honest feedback, and encouragement will leave a lasting impression on an individual. Get good at it, like Dave, and you may leave a legacy.


width=150Scott Ellis, Ed.D., provides the brutal facts with a kind and actionable delivery when a leader, a team, or a company needs an objective, data-based assessment of the current state of operations and culture. Training, coaching, and resources develop the ability to eliminate obstacles and sustain more effective and profitable results. Working Well exists to get you unstuck and accelerate effective work. He can be reached at 425-985-8508 or scott@workingwell.bz.


Ellis recently completed the AICC Packaging School course Mentoring Best Practices. To learn more about this course and other free online education opportunities, visit www.aiccbox.org/packagingschool.

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