Serving as a mentor at Daimler: A win-win situation for both sides

For almost a year now, I’ve been participating in the MBC Mentoring Program as a mentor for women team leaders from throughout the Group. One of the most surprising things I’ve discovered about the program is how much it’s actually benefited me as well.

When Mercedes-Benz Cars launched a new mentoring program for women in 2018, it didn’t take long for me to decide I wanted to be a part of it and help a group of four team leaders over a period of one year. Offering an insight into my work as a manager, receiving direct feedback on strategy topics, and supporting women in our organization — all that seemed like a great opportunity to me.

Naima Seddouk took part in the program as a mentee and described her experiences with the program in a blogpost you can view here. But what are things like on the other side of the equation — as a mentor?

Well, the first thing I can say is that I have also benefited tremendously from my experience with my group of mentees. These program participants come from all different worlds, so to speak, and therefore have no contact with each other at work. Still, it quickly became apparent that leadership issues are basically the same everywhere — in assembly units, procurement departments, or even the Mercedes-Benz Museum.

“Brigitte“ and the big picture at Daimler

I discovered this myself early on in my career. I’ve been at the Group for nearly 20 years. I’ve worked in logistics and quality departments, among other places, and I gradually took on more and more responsibility as the years went by. Today, I manage my own unit.

In the past, I was selected several times to participate in mentoring programs as a mentee. One of my mentors here was Jörg Burzer, who is now Head of Quality Management at Mercedes-Benz Cars. He gave me the following very valuable tip: “If you really want to be able to understand Daimler, you need to work in a production-related environment at some point.”

In 2010, I actually took part in a mentoring program run by “Brigitte” magazine, during which time I got to look over the shoulder of a high-level female executive at Commerzbank. I was really impressed by how openly she talked about the challenges she faced as a woman in a male-dominated environment.

What we talk about

Honesty remains extremely important to me as a mentor as well. We have informal meetings with no agenda, and everyone is encouraged to talk openly. In this way, we make each other more aware of the challenges we and the Group currently face, involving everything from individual career planning to management topics such as Leadership 2020.

My mentees are particularly interested in three issues.

The first is their personal further development. For example, they’re interested in learning how they can enhance their personal profile and grow as a person. Secondly, we talk about aspects relating to the situation of women in management positions. The “woman to woman” conversations I have with them in this regard are very valuable for me as well, as my management level doesn’t offer many opportunities to engage in such discussions.

Finally, my mentees repeatedly express interest in strategic issues and therefore want to know how the Group is doing and in which direction it’s heading. I enjoy offering them insights into the work of the management level, and in return I get very honest feedback on how strategy topics are perceived in our teams.

Me and my shadow

One of the highlights in the Mentoring Program are the “Shadowing Days” that allow each mentee to accompany me for a whole day from morning till evening — and to all of my meetings with customers, manager colleagues, and employees that are part of any normal working day for a Daimler manager.

The mentees were visibly impressed by the many facets of my working day. However, they also acted as mirror and very openly asked me questions as to why I reacted in a certain way when such and such a topic was being discussed or why there was so much heated debate on a certain issue. It was very interesting for me to reflect on such questions.

My tips for mentees

Mentoring offers a great opportunity to anyone selected to participate in a mentoring program. If I had to give future mentees three tips, it would be these:

  • Figure out what you’re hoping to gain: If you’re looking to further your personal development and learn about what a manager does at Daimler, then a mentoring program will be right for you. However, mentoring is not about ensuring a quick climb up the career ladder, and one needs to be aware of this if disappointments are to be avoided.
  • Engage freely with your mentor: Mentors are never the direct supervisors of their mentees, which offers a great opportunity in that everyone can speak freely and learn from one another irrespective of hierarchies.
  • Stay authentic: You don’t need to impress anyone. Mentoring can offer major benefits to everyone involved, provided they deal with each other openly and honestly.

Mentoring programs at Daimler have undergone considerable development over the years. These days, they’re rolled out more extensively and people view them more as a voluntary activity than a career advancement opportunity. This also means that everyone involved is completely dedicated and also learns more from their experience.

I’ve grown so attached to “my” mentees over the last months that I’ve decided I’d like to continue accompanying them and meet with them regularly independently of the Monitoring Program. Just recently they thanked me by giving me a bouquet of flowers — I was completely surprised and thrilled. It seems that our open discussions have in fact accomplished a lot more than I originally thought they would.

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Sabine Angermann is Head of Procurement and Supplier Quality for Raw Materials, Shell Construction, Risk Management and Strategy at Mercedes-Benz Cars…