Lessons from the Ants – Part 3
Leave a Trail for Others to Follow
by Sharon Flemings

In past articles, I’ve focused on several lessons I learned while dealing with ant invasions in my house this summer. So far, the lessons have been based on rather negative behavior by the ants (“why don’t they learn???). This month, I’d like to focus on a lesson based on a positive behavior they exhibit – ants always leave a trail for others to follow.

If you’ve ever watched ants on a mission, you have undoubtedly noticed that the ants create a trail, and all the others follow right along behind. While there are scientific explanations for this behavior, this also provides a good model and example of what we should be doing in our own organizations – leaving a trail for others to follow. As employees of a complex organization, we all have many roles to play. While ants have no apparent leader, it is quite clear that one ant has taken the initiative in leading and teaching others “the way”. One way for this to occur in the corporate world, is through mentoring others.

What kind of mentoring?
While traditionally, mentoring meant a formal relationship between one person and someone senior (generally a supervisor), mentoring now encompasses less formal relationships. Frequently, mentoring relationships are very short-term – for a specific purpose or end result, or they can even be for one interaction. Have you ever had an “ah ha” moment after a conversation with someone? That was an example of mentoring. There might even be times when you have mentored someone and not even known it!

Why is mentoring important?
There are a number of reasons why mentoring is important in today’s global organizations. On a greater and greater scale, we are becoming more and more international, regardless of whether we have a corporate presence outside the US or not. As we look around us, we are in contact with people from all backgrounds and experiences – what a wealth of information and experience from which to draw.

As we acknowledge and embrace this diversity, we find ourselves members of work teams comprised of people with many backgrounds. The ability to mentor each other as peers leads to more effective team performance. Imagine a group of people working together, teaching and motivating each other toward a common goal. How powerful would that be in your organization?

Succession planning is another reason mentoring is important to today’s organizations. While this is one of the more traditional reasons for mentoring programs in the corporate world, there are an increasing number of “baby boomers” exiting the workplace. This is causing concern about the tremendous amount of corporate knowledge that will be lost as well. Formal and informal mentoring can address this concern, and companies can be proactive in ensuring some of that corporate knowledge says behind.

Encouraging informal mentoring can be a powerful mechanism for generating a more creative and innovative culture within an organization. Informal mentoring often encourages continuous learning, as people challenge one another with new thoughts and ideas. It can also lead to more organizational cohesion, as a culture of learning, sharing and contributing is developed. What better way to create a people-centric organization?

What’s in it for me?
Well, that is up to you to decide. What would you want out of a mentoring relationship? Maybe one of your passions is to encourage and challenge others to be their best. Perhaps the other person has a skill or information you would like access to. There are many reasons you might be interested in becoming a mentor 

If you decide this is for you, be prepared to experience new insights, as your mentee is likely to make you think about things in new ways. That said, you might find yourself as a mentee to your mentee!

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