Mentoring — Vital to workforce development

By Wm. Craig Bonham, NTEA Board Chairman

Vice President, Commercial Vehicle, Safe Fleet
Belton, Missouri

This article was published in the June 2019 edition of NTEA News.

When was the last time you were asked to be a mentor? Are you actively functioning in this role? Maybe it’s time for us all to take an ever-so-critical reality check. After all, your business progress will be greatly affected by the steps you take to make people successful. Being a mentor is a starting point.

Why should you be a mentor? For me, after 37 years in the industry, mentoring is an instrumental part of my role in supporting the overall health and growth of our Safe Fleet team, but honestly, it’s something I enjoy. However, it took me a while to learn how to do it. Becoming an effective mentor requires a broad base of personal and work experiences. It doesn’t happen overnight. It comes from a blend of real-world experience, displaying conviction, leading by example, succinctly explaining challenges and opportunities, and coaching. It’s about creating great leaders instead of astute followers.

At its highest level, mentoring is the cultivation of a relationship, requiring dedication, active communication and an overarching emotional investment. When coaching, you have to be a great listener and remove distractions. For me, empathy is critical. It’s important to look for indicators of your mentee’s current mindset and concerns. As you create experiences together, listen to the questions, read the nonverbal cues and customize a path for this individual who is already showing an eagerness to learn. Candidly, it has to be more than giving advice. It includes real talk about your mistakes more than your successes; sharing what you wish you knew when you started in the commercial truck equipment industry; providing insight on your decision-making approach; tackling challenges when they surface; dealing with and embracing conflict; and managing and planning your day.

From my experience, I’ve seen people hired based on competency rather than character. Many times, they were bright and capable but lacked a solid work ethic. They simply could not gain the trust, commitment and enthusiasm we all, both leadership and teams, want and need in our organization’s culture. Making a connection involves enthusiastically celebrating wins and showing support and commitment during the losses.

Identifying a mentee’s passion is another critical element. Communication and cultivating the relationship are powerful ingredients. When faced with a difficult situation, I suggest you take the time to recap the event and discuss scenarios for how to handle it properly in the future. As a leader, it’s your duty to be a mentor, identify with your mentee, and make sure they have (and understand) the bandwidth to grow personally and professionally.

My last tip to mentors may be the most important. Keep in mind, all employees have aspirations (personal or professional), and it’s critical that you avoid trying to change their path or override them. If you determine they are not a cultural fit or a candidate for upward growth or mobility, assist them in transitioning into another role (within your company or elsewhere).

I have found it rewarding to see people make tangible strides toward their goals. Often, the mentoring relationship can turn into long-term friendship. Bottomline, stay committed to helping others grow, and you and your business will make gains in the process.

Workforce development is an NTEA priority; find supporting resources at