The subject of Mentoring has come up a lot recently, especially in the Love My Work series, and specifically about the need and absence of mentoring in careers and businesses.
People recognise the benefits of having a mentor, and yet don’t seek them out. A not untypical comment is: ‘I wish I did have a mentor - but I guess I rely on my tribe of trusted advisers ’.
Why a Mentor over Trusted Adviser?
Primarily it’s to do with objectivity, distance and having a bigger perspective of a world beyond your situation. The trusted adviser is generally a member of your cheer squad, making them more sensitive in how they couch their advice. Also the counselled is likely to filter feedback through the prism of their relationship. Trusted advisers are much easier to assemble than a mentor, and often reciprocal.
A client filled me in on a recent mentor experience. He was looking for some guidance on how to present a new product idea to his company. His mentor’s advice was fairly brutal and direct - but my client heard his mentor, and it significantly changed his thinking, direction and approach. A trusted adviser might have said exactly the same thing, possibly more than once - but he needed to hear it from someone who was well-placed to provide advice that wasn’t cushioned, or ego boosting for either of them.
So why get a Mentor
Good mentors can genuinely strengthen your career. They will challenge you, stretch you and make themselves available. While not always warm, they're approachable and ultimately have your interests at heart. Along with being a helpful sounding board and truth teller, they might also provide useful introductions to their network.
What might slow down you seeking mentorship is a lack of clarity about what you want the mentor to help you with. Come along to one of my upcoming workshops - it will help you get unstuck and self-directed on your career.
Some companies offer mentoring programs as a form of professional development. It's not uncommon in industries such as professional services, for a senior manager to take an interest in an employee they see as having future potential. It’s important for the mentee to professionally assess the sincerity and usefulness of the relationship.
How lucky to be offered mentorship by somebody with whom we have an authentic, professional, constructive connection. Unfortunately, that's rare, so when my clients' approach career milestones, I'm on their case to start researching and talking with potential mentors.
I recognise the challenge of finding someone who is right for you! It's hard work, so you don't want to waste your courage approaching the wrong person. Here’s a 4x4 plan to help you get started. You can probably expand it (and if so, please share your thoughts in comments), it's unlikely to shrink.
The qualities of a good mentor
They get you; they believe in you!
They’ve got the relevant experience to help you (as the great Judy Fitzgerald says, you don’t visit the butcher to buy bread)!
They have your interests (not theirs) invested in the process; and they've got the commitment and personality to maintain guidance for agreed period
You are prepared to be vulnerable, open and honest with them - they’re respectful, objective, and trustworthy.
Qualities of a good mentee
A goal and a plan - don’t look to your mentor to find your goal!
Clarity on what you need - advice, knowledge, introductions
Open, and able to listen, engage, contemplate and follow through
Maintain their identity - speak up if advice doesn't sit well and work through other options, rather than abandon process
Find your mentor?
Research and identify appropriate internal/external people
Prepare mental or physical checklist of what you need from the mentor
Be thoughtful about how you will approach potential mentor and then set up the meeting
During (or shortly after) the meeting, ask for mentorship if they’re the right. Thank them for their time and step away if they’re not.
Establishing a mentoring relationship:
Be clear on mutual roles and responsibilities
Discuss your goal and plan, and how you expect the mentor can help you
Listen to how the mentor offers to help you and what their expectations are
Commit, stretch and be prepared to work through some discomfort
Importantly, keep the roles of coach and mentor distinct. A coach tends to encourage you to make decisions. A mentor's more likely to cut to the chase and tell you what to do. It’s up to you to remain thoughtful about the advice you’re receiving, so don’t surrender personal responsibility. Throughout this process, your confidence should be growing.
Finally, is it possible that you might make yourself available to be a mentor? Not only is it good karma, but it will help you better understand what it takes to create an effective mentoring.
An excellent study on Mentor/Mentee relationships which is also THE BEST article I’ve read on mentoring