Silent Mentorship: One Lesson that Will Inspire Your Career

Several of my posts have spoken about the importance of mentorship in advancing your finance career. The type of mentoring I have spoken of is a formal, established relationship where a mentor works with a mentee to develop his/her skills and abilities. There is, however, another type of mentorship, one of a more observational nature, and it can also be quite effective in shaping your skill set.

It’s called ‘silent mentorship’, a term coined by CA and Senior VP Trish Barbato in her book Inspire Your Career. I sat down with Trish to understand what a silent mentor is, the benefits of silent mentorship and more importantly, how to extract the maximum learning from this seemingly unorthodox mentoring approach. It’s an interesting concept and one that could, quite effectively, change the way you see yourself and your job.

Can you define silent mentorship for us?
Silent mentorship is a way that people can start the mentoring process without the up front commitment you would have in a traditional mentoring relationship. In a traditional mentoring relationship, the mentor and mentee often agree to meet on a pre-set schedule that takes place over an extended period of time. It can involve a level of commitment that potential mentors often cannot provide and that the mentee is sometimes too shy to ask for. Silent mentorship, on the other hand, is a “low effort, high yield” activity that involves less commitment. It acknowledges that there is a lot of teaching that happens when people observe one another. Sometimes you see a specific trait you admire in someone and it resonates with you. You should then take the time to analyze what it was you admire and how the person demonstrates that behaviour so that you can emulate it. The trait could be almost anything. It could be the person’s communication style, the person’s attitude, or the person’s innovative approach.

Silent mentorship, on the other hand, is a “low effort, high yield” activity that involves less commitment.

Could you break down the silent mentorship process?
There are a few key steps in the silent mentorship process:

  • Once you observe someone demonstrating a characteristic that you admire, step back and properly identify what it was specifically that you liked.
  • Try practising that behaviour to make it your own. Each time you practice the behaviour, eval-uate its effect on the people around you, as well as on yourself. Did it work for you the same way as the person your observed? Did it feel comfortable? What could you change?
  • The goal of silent mentorship is to see if you can emulate the behaviour you admire and inter-nalize it. Often you can do this quickly, but sometimes it takes some practice. Be open to self-reflection so that you can analyze what worked and what didn’t.
  • Ideally, you could go to that individual and ask him/her questions about the behaviour and trait so that you can understand how and why he/she handles himself/herself in a particular way.

The goal of silent mentorship is to see if you can emulate the behaviour you admire and internalize it.

Can you give us any examples of how you have used silent mentorship?
Yes I can. I remember ob-serving a woman in a meeting and thinking about how calm and poised she was. The way that she handled herself made me realize that I am usually a bull in a china shop (laughs). I wanted to see if I could model her behaviour. Observing her grace and presence in that meeting it helped me see the con-trast with my own behaviour. I am proud to say that I am more ballerina now and less bull in a china shop (laughs).

One other example, at the risk of showing my age, is that I loved the original Star Trek series with Cap-tain James T. Kirk. One quality about him that sticks to me even today, is that he approached life with a sense of awe and wonder. Every planet, every new creature was met with open curiosity. I try to emu-late this trait to this day.

I had to observe her behaviour, contrast it with my own and then ask her questions

What are the advantages of silent mentorship?
There are several advantages to silent mentorship:

  • It’s a time saver. It allows you to observe on your own time and then informally connect with the person you admire.
  • It allows you to emulate a wide range of traits, from different kinds of people.
  • It allows you to build relationships with people who are outside your direct line of authority, or outside of your specific department. Everyone loves a compliment. If you tell someone that you ad-mire the way they do something and ask for feedback about it, usually he/she is happy to speak to you.

Connecting with someone outside of your direct line of authority or department enables you to risk more because you feel safer asking questions.

After talking to Trish I was surprised to realize that throughout my career I have consistently used silent mentorship as a way of becoming a more effective communicator and leader. I have watched people I admire, identified what it is about them that resonated for me and then tried to emulate them. Sometimes the skill I’ve admired has not come naturally to me, but I’ve continued to work at it and eventually those skills that seemed difficult to internalize, have become second nature. The key to do-ing silent mentorship well, I’ve learned, is the self-reflection piece where I ask myself what worked and what didn’t. Listen and learn – silent mentorship can change your career. I know it has for me.