Mentoring. A word that we hear pretty much from the beginning of our school lives, all the way to the end of our careers – and beyond that, at times. How do you make a mentor-mentee relationship work?
Well, it takes commitment from both sides – that’s for sure. Let’s have a look at the two sides of the relationship, and see how best the two can prepare for the success of this relationship and build a solid relationship from the outset.
Are you ready to be a mentor?
Most often, we become mentors simply because our management assigns us to the role. The commitment, however, if we are to take our role seriously, should be much more than merely someone assigning us a new employee that we have to guide.
We need to want to be a mentor, and ensure we are well-prepared for this important role we embark upon.
Many mentoring relationships fail; however, we should strive for a successful one, and it all starts from the commitment of the two parties, especially the mentor.
As a potential mentor, you need to not see this relationship as a strain on your time. You should see it as a development opportunity, and an avenue to achieve great personal satisfaction.
Being a mentor can improve your leadership skills and allow you to learn to adapt different perspectives. It will make you more open to accept alternative ways of thinking and allow you to challenge yourself, but at the same time get inspired.
A mentor does not necessarily need to be someone at the top of his or her profession, as long as the person being mentored is at least a level below in terms of experience. That is, if we are talking about mentoring someone from the work environment.
If, on the other hand, you are mentoring someone from a different career path, you should choose to mentor someone that is at the beginning of his or her career, or a few steps behind you at least. That way you can draw parallels with your development and provide the person with useful information and discussions.
There are a few questions you could ask yourself to determine whether you are ready to become a mentor to someone: ·Are you willing to help the person who has approached you, to develop and achieve success in their career and life?
·Are you prepared to invest time and effort?
·Are you a good listener and able to encourage others?
·Are you open to new ideas and perspectives?
·Are you interested in challenging and helping someone to reach further?
·Are you willing to share your personal knowledge and experiences?
·Can you keep discussions confidential?
·Are you willing to discuss personal matters as well as career dilemmas?
Are you prepared to have a mentor?
It could be the case that someone at work has assigned a mentor to you. In this case, you probably do not have a choice or whether you wish to have a mentor.
If that is the case, you might as well get the most out of the experience – it might, after all, turn out to be much better than you think.
If you want a mentor and are actively going out of your way to find one, then all the better.
Either way, there are a few things to consider in your journey towards finding the right mentor, and also managing the relationship in the best possible way so that you can reap the rewards.
For a start, whether imposed or by invitation, you will need to find a way to indulge and attract the attention of your mentor. You should bear in mind that most mentors are looking for certain things from a mentoring relationship. These may include: ·A sense that they are helping someone achieve their goals and that they are making a difference in another person’s life. ·An occasional “thank you” or acknowledgement of the assistance they are providing. ·An enjoyable relationship.
As the mentee, there are a few ways to invite and sustain your mentor’s interest. ·Know what you need and want from the relationship.
·Have clearly-defined objectives.
·Identify problems you believe might be obstacles to you in reaching your objectives.
·Give thought to and be able to articulate how you think a mentor can assist you.
·Think about how you might reach your objectives with or without a mentor.
·Be purposeful and pleasant, and have challenging goals.
·Treat your mentor relationship with care; don’t abuse it by asking for inappropriate favours or information, and don’t take your mentor for granted.
Remember that in the end, you are the one responsible for your own development, in the end. As such, you should take initiative to determine your own needs, and also propose ways that your mentor could help you improve on certain aspects.
There are a number of ways to determine your needs. ·Review your last performance evaluation; were there areas in which your supervisor felt you needed more development and expertise?
·Read job descriptions or advertisements for positions you aspire to hold in the next three to five years. What skills do you already have? What skills/experiences do you need to develop to be qualified for these positions?
·List three basic needs that you have in your current position (e.g. less stress, more responsibility, more challenge, more respect).
·Think about what you currently enjoy in your current situation. What’s missing?
These deliberations would be helpful in order to have a more targeted approach during your sessions with your mentor, and to even identify the right mentor for you, if you have the luxury of having choices.
Developing the right skills as a mentee
As a mentee, there are certain skills you will need to develop to make the most out of your mentoring experience.
Since mentoring sessions aim to help the mentee more than the mentor, you should learn how to ask the right questions. If not, you will end up getting only the information the mentor is offering, which might not necessarily answer all your queries.
Make sure you learn the art of asking the right questions. It is not about simply coming up with a long list of thoughtless questions – make them really work for you by figuring out what you need to ask to get the information you want.
To truly use listening to your advantage, you need to put in a bit more effort than usual. Aim to listen to – and understand- every word your mentor shares with you. Their time is valuable, and so is yours. So do not waste it by not really taking 100% from your sessions together.
Follow your mentor’s pace of speaking, and follow his/her thought process. Aim to analyse everything they say – how it all connects, how it relates to you or the question you just asked.
Make sure you summarise and repeat thoughts to them, in order to ensure you truly understood their points, and come up with ways you could apply this in your situation (your career or dilemma at the moment or in the future).
Remember that this process may take some time. You may only be able to think of the applications after your session is over – but it would be great if at the beginning of your next session, or perhaps via email, you let your mentor know you have been thinking of what they said, and share your plan for execution with them.
Reflection after your sessions and following up on those thoughts is perhaps the most powerful skill you could learn for mentoring relationships.
A mentoring relationship is based on trust. As such, you need to ensure you work hard towards gaining your mentor’s trust, just like you‘ll take some time to trust them in return.
You need to show them that you are not taking advantage of the relationship by wasting their time, or spreading information they share with you around.
Be very wary, therefore, of what is important to your mentor, and respect their time and expertise. At the end of the day, if they are sharing some confidential information with you it’s for your own benefit, so repay them by keeping it to yourself.
Even though your mentor is possibly older than yourself, and definitely of a higher rank in the organisation (or community), remember that you have the right to express yourself, and that you have a right to shape the path that your relationship and the mentoring process are taking.
That being said, you need to ensure you do so professionally, in a manner that is appropriate and respectful. Find a way to address any differences diplomatically and politely, by not aggressively accusing them of not doing something right.
I do hope this brief guide can give you some starting points for considering how you can enter, or if you are already in one, sustain, a mentor-mentee relationship.
Whatever your role in such a relationship, remember that you both need to work hard, be open to new ideas that may come your way, and make the most of it while respecting your counterpart. Happy connecting, and may you find a meaningful and nurturing relationship with your mentor/mentee.