More professionals are actively pursuing mentoring to advance their careers. Moreover, whether you are on the giving or receiving end, these types of partnerships can benefit your career.
A mentoring partnership can be rewarding to both people, personally and professionally. It is an opportunity to develop communication skills, expand your viewpoints, and consider new ways of approaching situations. Moreover, both partners can advance their careers in the process.
The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.”—William Arthur Ward
While having a mentor can make a significant difference in your career, being one can also be a valuable experience—that comes with much responsibility. A great mentor does not just provide guidance and answers during career transitions or sticky situations. They also provide motivation and inspiration to help their mentee get to the next level and fulfill their potential.
What Is Mentoring?
Mentoring is a relationship between two people with the goal of professional and personal development. The "mentor" is usually an experienced individual who shares knowledge, experience, and advice with a less experienced person or "mentee."
Mentors become trusted advisers and role models—people who have "been there" and "done that." They support and encourage their mentees by offering suggestions and knowledge, both general and specific. The goal is to help mentees improve their skills and, hopefully, advance their careers.
A mentoring partnership may be between two people within the same company, same industry, or same networking organization. However, the partners come together, the relationship must be based on mutual trust and respect, and it typically offers personal and professional advantages for both parties.
Helping someone else succeed can be immensely gratifying. But what I've heard time and again from executive ‘elders’ is how much they gain in return when they mentor young people. They're often surprised at how much they learn from their mentees. Mentoring really goes both ways; when different generations come together, their blend of skills can be highly complementary.”—Pamela Ryckman
Want to be a great mentor?
You need to resist the urge to act and make decisions for your mentee and instead do the difficult task of listening. Stop, focus, and listen.
Start out right, with goal setting
- succeed unless clear objectives are agreed in advance
- succeed unless there is an agreed plan of action
- act as a replacement for conventional training
Many pieces need to align as you set out on a new mentoring relationship, right down to the logistical issues of when, where, and how frequently to meet. The critical element is taking time from the outset to listen to each others' goals and expectations for the mentoring relationship. Taking time to appreciate and understand your mentee's goals will demonstrate your commitment to his professional development and career success. Useful goals could be narrowly related to completion of a specific project-related task or more expansive, such as regular appraisal of career progression.
This is an ideal time to express what you expect from this relationship, including your goals for the next steps and a discussion of boundaries as needed, so you and your mentee can start on the same page.
Are you the right mentor for them at this time?
As a mentor, at the first meeting, determine where they want to focus—ask:
- Where do you want to be at this time next year?
- Where you want to be in five years?
- What do you want to do with your career?
Based on the answer, you may not be the best fit for them at this time, as individuals need three different types of mentors:
- Mentor #1: One Year Guide—Ideally, this person is someone who has been in mentee’s shoes and can easily relate to their current experiences.
- Mentor #2: Five-Year Guide—Ideally, this person has a bit more experience under their belt, this person can offer advice on advancing within the company or field, including the short-term goals the mentee should be setting to get there.
- Mentor #3: Career Guide—Ideally, this person works or has worked in your industry. They should be someone who knows the tools of the trade and can consult you on significant events and decisions, like switching jobs, working abroad, or exploring other career opportunities.
If there is a misalignment between what you offer and the mentee’s expectations, advise them that throughout their career, there will be lots of people they turn to for help and advice. However, by being strategic and identifying a few key mentors to be their “board of advisors,” they will make sure that the best guidance is always steering them in the right direction.
I use a strengths-based approach and leverage my mentee's Behaviour DNA. When they embrace their natural strengths and their challenges, advice and guidance is much moring meaningful to them.
Consider these critical skills from excellent mentors
Listen first. Think of yourself as a life coach. A good mentor always navigates the mentee to a solution or a next step; they don’t solve it for them. Help to remove roadblocks for your mentee, and alternatively, create bridges for them. Also, understand that your mentee is not you, so they will want or need to carve their own professional path. You don’t need to be a perfect, shining example either. Your failures and hardships throughout life and your career are just as valuable to your mentee as are your successes. And realize, sometimes you are just there to listen.”—Whitney Gonzales, marketing manager at Liingo Eyewear
A good listening tip is to take notes during your mentoring sessions to stay actively engaged. If you give your mentee some direction, follow up on that direction the next time you meet: “I remember you were going to ask for the promotion. How did that go?”
Much like parenting, mentoring can be satisfying, but also long-term and trying, endeavor. While the mentee needs and wants direction, often this requires a bit of constructive criticism, which can be hard to take. It is vital that a mentor be a patient soul, because tempers may flare, and quick fixes are few and far between.”—David Parnell, legal consultant, communication coach and author
Deliver honest feedback
I love mentors that keep it real and give honest feedback, including pointed criticism. While it’s wonderful to get support and be cheered on, it’s also important to hear things that other people are not willing to say. In the early days of Senreve, some of my best mentors were also my harshest critics, but that was okay because it helped me improve, and it showed that they have high expectations from me. Ultimately, their early feedback allowed me to have a very successful launch and the first year of the company.”—Coral Chung, co-founder of luxury handbag brand Senreve
A mentor’s job is to provide knowledge, inspiration, and feedback to help light way. You must be comfortable enough to be constructive and not be afraid of critiquing their work. Don’t beat around the bush. Understand who you are speaking to, their needs, their strengths and where they want to go.”—Demi Marchese, founder of 12th Tribe
Motivate and inspire
The key for me personally is to influence and inspire the next generation to become strong, motivated, confident, and thoughtful leaders. If I’m able to accomplish that, I consider the mentorship a success. Part of your role is inspiring your mentee to reach their fullest potential and challenging their comfort zone. Help them achieve the uncomfortable.”—Laurel Berman, founder and creative director of Black Halo
A little goes a long way. Send an article when you see something relevant for your mentee—I thought you might be interested in . . . You will see how a small act can have a tremendous impact.
Establish mutual respect
The relationship should be based on mutual respect, trust, and support. The partnership needs to foster acceptance and safety where both parties feel safe enough to communicate openly and take risks without the threat of being judged, ridiculed or condescended to.”—Maryann Bruce, former president of Evergreen Investments Services
One of the most significant ways to show respect for someone is by valuing their time. When you mentor someone, the truth is, you may be in a position of power and your time may be in fact more valuable—but that is irrelevant. To you, this may be a quick call, but to your mentee, this may be the most critical meeting of the day—so treat it as such.
Be present and open
Show up, engage and participate. They say that showing up is half the battle, but when you do show up, it’s crucial to be fully present, proactive and take the initiative. Be prepared to share your experiences, both positive and negative.”—Laurel Berman
Be open and honest
Mentors should be open and honest with their mentees. Be willing to make time to offer advice, but also realize that no two career paths are the same, and the mentee’s decisions and career path are ultimately up to them. Often, mentors have just as much to learn as mentees. So, look not only for what advice you can give but also use it as an opportunity to learn from someone who has a different perspective and background.”—Melissa Musgrove, vice president, head of social media at Regions Financial Corporation
Be open-minded and compassionate
If you’ve ever argued with someone, you know that they will never see your side until they’re convinced that you’ve seen theirs. And to provide valuable guidance and advice that is well received, it is necessary to first understand the mentee’s needs, wants, feelings, et cetera. This can only come in the form of deep and implicit empathy.”—David Parnell
To have an influence on someone you need to know them super well. It is a night and day experience when they journal vs. when they do not. Many times, mentors will give direction without a full set of information; the journaling process changes that.”— Kim Ades, CEO of Frame of Mind Coaching
The best way to get to know your mentee is through journaling. Have your mentee journal on a regular basis. Set up an electronic means to access the journals. Some questions that the mentee can answer weekly, and that allow the mentor to gain a wealth of previously un-mined knowledge are:
- What is your greatest business challenge?
- What goal are you trying to achieve?
- What is getting in the way?
Benefits to the Mentor
Becoming a mentor can enrich your life on a personal and professional level by helping you do the following:
- Build your leadership skills—It enables you to advance your ability to motivate and encourage others. This can help you become a better manager, employee, and team member.
- Improve your communication skills—Because your mentee may come from a different background or environment, the two of you may not "speak the same language." This may force you to find a way to communicate more effectively as you navigate your way through the mentoring relationship.
- Learn new perspectives—By working with someone less experienced and from a different background, you can gain a fresh perspective on things and learn a new way of thinking—which can help in your work life as well as your personal life.
- Advance your career—Refining your leadership skills can strengthen your on-the-job performance, perhaps helping you get that promotion to higher management—or into management in the first place. Showing that you've helped others learn and grow is becoming more and more essential to advancement in today's business world.
- Gain personal satisfaction—It can be very personally fulfilling to know that you've directly contributed to someone's growth and development. Seeing your mentee succeed because of your input is a reward.
Understanding what success means as a mentor
Since mentorship has an end, how do you know you were successful?
That is the wrong question. The right question is ‘has the mentee made progress?’ Moreover, overall that is the goal—to use mentorship as a tool to grow for both you and your mentees.
In the paper we share the competencies that are:
- Always On: Only two behaviors from manager to C-Suite
- Leap: “Bridging” behaviors for moving between each management level
- Lead: Unique behaviors for every stage of management
- Leave Behinds: The “once and done” list— good only for where you are, not where you’re going