Peer Mentoring is ‘Secret Sauce’ in Recipe for Success

Dean Richard Franza’s column appeared in the Sunday, March 13, edition of the Augusta Chronicle. The post can be viewed here.

This coming October, the Hull College of Business at Augusta University will undergo an important review.

Our accrediting body – the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, also known as AACSB International – requires that each of its accredited business schools experiences a Continuous Improvement Review, in which a team of three business schools deans from peer institutions evaluate our programs, processes and faculty to help determine if we merit five more years of accreditation.

A best practice in preparing for a CIR is to invite your visit team chairman for a “pre-visit” about six to eight months prior. Therefore, we recently had our chairman visit to help introduce him to AU/Hull, but more importantly, to help guide our preparations for the upcoming CIR visit in October. Both the CIR and its associated pre-visit are outstanding examples of how AACSB International facilitates important relationships for me, which are examples of an important element of any leader’s success: peer mentoring.

Most of us are familiar with mentoring and its important benefits. Whether it has been a formal or informal relationship, most professionals such as doctors, lawyers, business people and many others have had mentors. Our mentors have typically been older, more experienced people who have helped guide our careers and taught us how to avoid some of the mistakes they may have made or have seen others make.

Through my two very different careers in the military and academia, I have been extremely blessed to have mentors who have taken me under their wings and enhanced my likelihood for success. In some cases, I initiated the relationship, but in others, these more experienced people took an interest in helping me.

Peer-to-peer mentoring adds accountability, shared learning

No matter how it started, I always found that being mentored was extremely valuable and was instrumental in just about every success I had and I imagine most of you can say the same. That is just one of the many reasons I have volunteered to serve as a mentor through the Rotary Club of Augusta.

However, while the value of having mentors was never lost on me, it never occurred to me (and probably to many others) to pursue a mentoring relationship with my peers, such as the ones AACSB has encouraged me to forge with my fellow business school deans.

Peer mentoring is basically a relationship between people who are at a similar career stage or age and in which both parties profit from the arrangement in terms of learning. This is unlike the traditional mentoring relationship in which the younger, less experienced person in the relationship does almost all of the learning.

Peer mentoring should not replace, but rather complement traditional mentoring relationships. One of the downsides of the traditional mentoring relationship is the hierarchical difference between the mentor and the mentee. The mentor is often substantially more senior in the profession or industry than the mentee, which can significantly inhibit the development of rapport between the two parties. One advantage of peer mentoring is that it does not have such hierarchical gaps.

However, there are many other advantages to peer mentoring. First, peers are often facing similar challenges and similar problems as you. You are dealing with many of the same types of work demands, reporting relationships and office politics. Therefore, peers can work together to help address their thorniest problems.

Second, when dealing with such challenges and problems, it is nice to have someone to commiserate with about them. Being able to vent with someone who can empathize with your situation is often seen as beneficial to one’s mental health.

Third, having a peer mentor provides you an excellent resource for feedback on your ideas and behaviors.

Two additional benefits of peer mentoring are two-way teaching and learning, and having an accountability partner. As noted earlier, the traditional mentoring relationship is one where the mentor teaches and the mentee learns. In peer mentoring, both parties have the opportunity to teach and learn. This will allow both parties to learn more as we have seen that as you teach, you also learn more.

Finally, peer mentoring allows to have a natural accountability partner. As you teach and learn from each other, the peer mentors can hold each other accountable to applying what they learn.

However, there are disadvantages to peer mentoring. For instances, some individuals may not be prepared to share their information. In addition, some peers may lack the knowledge and experience to be a peer mentor. Because of such disadvantages, it is wise to have a portfolio of both peer and traditional mentoring relationships.

Throughout my careers, I have been well-served by traditional mentoring relationships. I can directly point to about three to four mentors in each of my careers who have had an outsized influence on my success and I extremely grateful for all of them.

However, until recently, I missed out on the opportunity available to me through peer mentors. Thanks to AACSB International, I have been positively pushed into peer mentoring relationships and I am now actively seeking out more of such relationships.

Based on these experiences, I strongly recommend including peer mentoring in your professional development portfolio.

Written by
Dean Richard Franza

Dr. Richard M. Franza is Dean of the James M. Hull College of Business and Professor of Management. Dr. Franza's primary areas of expertise are Operations Management (OM), Management of Technology (MOT), and Project Management.

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Written by Dean Richard Franza

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The James M. Hull College of Business is accredited by AACSB International and offers outstanding, highly-engaged business education at the undergraduate and graduate levels.