Mentorship is something of a buzzword these days in the business world. While it may seem straightforward, what many don’t realize is that there are many nuances that go into a successful mentoring relationship.
Cultivating a Culture of Mentors
Many businesses encourage or desire to have active mentorship throughout the ranks of their organization, but this is not always the case. A Mentor Coordinator should ask themselves one very important question: does my company have a culture of approachability in which employees feel comfortable interacting with one another, despite hierarchy? If a company decides to set up a mentorship program, there is value in a two way conversation/buy-in between parties.
One of the best mentorship models I’ve experienced involved having mentees write down their top three target choices they’ve identified across the company, and pass those along to the coordinator. The coordinator then reaches out to each mentor prospect and determines their bandwidth or desire to mentor. This model is usually successful as it sets two willing parties on a path of mutual success. Many organizations will just pair younger associates with older executives by a lottery system or the whim of the coordinator, which rarely seems to work in a long term situation.
Mentoring is a growth relationship, one where ideas and vulnerability need a safe place to be discussed. These candid conversations need to have an environment that encourages openness. If there is a pervasive lack of trust in company leadership or an overtly competitive working culture among employees; an open environment, that encourages relationships, will be hard to grow.
Mentees: Identify who you would like to have mentor you
In identifying industry professionals who inspire you, ask yourself why you’re drawn to them. Are they dynamic like you’d like to be? Do they demonstrate a workplace efficiency that you would like to emulate? Do they have the respect that you eventually desire? What do they seem to have figured out that you’d like to copy? Curiosity and ability to observe are key. Finding a mentor outside of your organization and perhaps even your industry is also a great way to garner a different point of view.
Condoleezza Rice famously said “[…] my role models were actually white men — as a matter of fact, old white men, because that is what my field was dominated by.” If Condolezza Rice had looked only for mentors that were like her, she very well may have never been Secretary of State.
Mentees: Step out of your comfort zone
During my first internship, I worked for a company that assigned me a mentor. I remember identifying who I would have liked to be my mentor after seeing their name on the list of options. This person was exactly who I wanted to become in my industry. They were well liked, young for their title, and polished — but seemed like they would not have the time or desire to get to know someone they didn’t already know. Because of that, I never approached them, and I regret that to this day. In all reality, my own insecurities prohibited what could possibly have been a great experience. Instead, the program coordinator blindly paired me up with someone with whom I was not compatible.
With that experience in mind at my first full time job, I chose early on who I wanted to be my mentor. Similarly to the person at my internship, this was a person I wanted to be more like. I observed them from afar and decided that I would gather the courage to ask them to mentor me. They responded well and even though we have both gone on to other companies, our relationship has lasted to this day. They have become an honest and valued voice in my life.
Mentors: Have a concern for the success of others
A good mentor comes from a position of caring. Some of the best managers that I have ever had became mentors because I realized that they were interested in developing me holistically in our industry, and were not just trying to see how much work they could squeeze out of me.
Be willing to listen
Active listening for both parties is key. A former boss who turned into a mentor once told me that listening is one of the most valuable things I could do in life. For a cocky entry-level associate, it took a while for that to sink in. I had to realize that someone who is taking time to invest in you and give you feedback generally wants to see you succeed. Along the same thread, assuming you know the issues facing your mentee would be foolhardy without hearing their whole situation.
Be sensitive to the needs of others
For mentors, it is sometimes easy to forget that new and very young mentees are just that. Very new and young, they lack the auto sense to make the decisions seasoned professionals may see as cut and dry. Patience is needed. On the other end of the spectrum, mentees need to realize the pressing schedules of industry leaders. Work responsibilities coupled with the demands of personal and family life make time increasingly scarce and all the more valuable. For this reason, I decided early on that my mentors should never have to pay for their own meal — it was the least I could do to thank them for their valuable time.
Tips for Successful Mentor Relationships
Honesty is key. When both parties engage in open and real conversations, true growth can happen. Wasting each other’s time with a lack of candor is not beneficial to anyone. Be honest and identify issues you would like to work on or areas of life where you would like to improve.
Often times, mentor relationships can be a “safe” place for mentees. For example, the mentor can be someone the mentee can go to with issues that they may not feel comfortable talking to their boss about.
To better utilize your time with your mentor I have included some tactics to make one’s mentorship as fruitful as possible.
- Come armed with questions, but there is no need to get to all of them in the first meeting.
- Identify obstacles early on and sharing insights as to how one handled those in the past. Whether it comes to management advice or a workplace conflict identifying specific areas for growth requires preparation on the part of the mentee and follow-up from the mentor.
- A long term mentor has no ongoing agenda. The relationship is built off of a mutual understanding and not off of potential for personal gain. They truly enjoy hearing updates on a mentee’s life and are happy to provide wise counsel.
A great mentorship not only strengthens the fabric of an organization it also provides both parties with a mutually beneficial relationship. Yes, things like environment, attitude and compatibility are crucial however the underlying theme of a great relationship is the desire of both parties to see common growth and development in either themselves or the upcoming generations of future business leaders.
Author: Josh Cortez, Account Supervisor