During the process of networking, you may find individuals who you connect with, admire, and want to have a closer professional relationship with. These individuals may be good mentor candidates. You may also join an organization that has a formalized mentoring program, where you are assigned a mentor and provided with a timeline and template for reaching professional goals.
A mentoring relationship involves a mentor and mentee who share a goal of professional and personal development (Mind Tools Content Team, n.d.). Usually, the mentor has experience in the field or job a mentee is interested in. The mentor shares experience, advice, and network connections to help the mentee grow. Just like in other networking relationships, mentees also have a lot to offer a mentor.
As you think about who you might want as a mentor, how to get and give the most in a mentoring partnership, or becoming a mentor to a peer or more junior employee, consider dispelling several myths about mentoring and identifying the qualities of an ideal mentor and the benefits of engaging in a mentoring partnership.
In your exposure to mentoring, you have probably come across some sound advice, but some myths (Gallo, 2011) as well. These myths can hinder your professional growth by placing unnecessary restrictions on seeking a mentor.
Myth #1: You have to find one perfect mentor
One perfect mentor may not be out there and you could be delaying your growth searching for just one person. Rather, you might identify several people who can support you in different ways or areas of your career.
Myth #2: Mentoring is a formal long-term partnership
You and your mentor will set the terms of your partnership.
Myth #3: Mentoring is for junior people
Mentoring can be useful for people at any level of their career as long as they have professional development goals. There are always areas in which we can grow.
Myth #4: Mentoring is something more experienced people do out of the goodness of their hearts
Mentoring is a mutually beneficial partnership. Mentor and mentee should benefit.
Now that you have an idea of what mentoring is and have dispelled some myths, let us look at some of the ideal qualities a mentor should possess.
Qualities of ideal mentors
Ideal mentors (Mind Tools Content Team, n.d.) should:
- Be trustworthy
Personal and professional growth will necessitate some self-reflection and identification of areas you would like to develop. For a mentor to help you with these things, you need to be able to feel vulnerable and as if you can share problems and concerns with your mentor. You will not feel comfortable doing this if you cannot trust them with your personal information.
- Have the desire and time to help
You can think you have found the perfect mentor but that person may not have energy and time to devote to you. A fact of being a successful person will probably mean the person’s time is limited, they are focused on important projects, and they may already have other mentees. This is why it is important to consider having multiple mentors.
- Ask thoughtful questions
You might think you know what you want, but a good mentor knows what questions to ask that will get you thinking about yourself and your career in new ways. Mentors also need to ask questions to assess how they can help you and how you can help them.
- Listen actively
Good mentors actively listen by paying attention to the mentee’s verbal and nonverbal communication, being patient, suspending judgment, and summarizing back to the mentee to check they have understood. Through active listing, again, mentors can identify how they can help you and how you can help them.
- Provide constructive feedback
Mentors need to be able to provide feedback in a way that will be well-received by a mentee. This means they should be able to describe situations and behaviors objectively and focus on a path forward rather than dwelling on blame. The best advice will be ignored if a mentor does not communicate it in a way that makes a mentee feel ashamed or defensive.
Now that you may have someone in mind who you think possessess the ideal qualities of a mentor, let us talk about the benefits of mentoring from a mentor and mentee perspective.
Benefits to the Mentor
Mentors can grow personally and professionally from a mentoring partnership (Mind Tools Content Team, n.d.) in some of the following ways:
- Building leadership skills
Being a mentor can help you practice motivating others and identifying where they need support. These skills can help you be a better leader, manager, and team member.
- Improving communication skills
Your mentee may communicate differently than you, meaning you may have to adapt your style so that your messages are understood. Adaptation to others can make you more of an effective communicator.
- Learning new perspectives
Working with someone from a different background, who has different perspectives, who is from a different generation perhaps, can help you understand situations from a different perspective. A mentor is likely to provide an insider’s perspective, which can be insulated from change, a mentee can help a mentor stay up-to-date on employment trends.
- Advancing your career
Improved leadership and communication skills can help you prepare for higher levels of responsibility in your career. Mentoring might be seen as a form of elective service to the organization or professional community, which could give you another boost over competition for promotions.
- Gaining personal satisfaction
Using your skills and knowledge to help someone can be personally fulfilling. In addition, when the person you have helped does well, knowing you were a part of their success can also be rewarding.
Benefits to the Mentee
Mentees can receive valuable support from mentors and grow personally and professionally from mentoring relationships (Mind Tools Content Team, n.d.). Here are several ways that happens:
- Gaining valuable advice
Whether your mentor is a peer or more advanced in their career, they can offer valuable insider information about what they have experienced. They may be familiar with issues you are encountering or goals you have. Sharing this information can help you move through problems or reach your goals more efficiently or expertly.
- Developing knowledge and skills
The goals you set with a mentor can help you improve your employability by setting goals related specifically to your human capital. A mentor can help you identify your knowledge and skill gaps and get you on a path and either teach you what you need to know of connect you with someone who can further help you.
- Improving communication skills
Just as a mentor will need to adapt their communication to best reach you, you might also learn to communicate better through adapting or simply practicing the professional communication skills you already have begun to develop.
- Learning new perspectives
Just as you are likely to share new perspectives with your mentor, they will have new perspectives to share with you. While we may be attracted to those who are like us, engaging in a mentoring partnership with someone who has a different background or culture can lead to learning new ways of thinking and ways of looking at problems and opportunities.
- Building your networking
Another way your mentor can help you improve your employability is by introducing you to their personal and professional contacts and expanding your network–your social capital. If this happens, be sure to follow up with these people as you are using your mentor’s goodwill and your behavior reflects back on them.
- Advancing your career
Being mentored can help advance your career by motivating you to pursue a professional development plan. Your mentor can also help keep you accountable on your path toward development.
How to Manage a Mentoring Relationship
There are several things you can do to make a mentoring partnership last and beneficial for both parties (Mind Tools Content Team, n.d.).
- Establish guidelines:
Establishing a mentoring agreement that includes guidelines for meetings, goals, and a timeline can provide structure to the relationship. It can also increase the likelihood that your mentoring sessions stay on each others’ calendars. For a busy mentor, setting an agenda and timeline for goals can help assure them their time is being respected.
- Set goals
Use your initial meeting(s) to discuss some long and short-term goals you would like to work on. Give your mentor the chance to offer insight into those goals and propose alternative ones. Set SMART goals–goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound.
- Set regular mentoring meetings
Set regular meetings to keep yourself accountable for doing the work you need to grow and to keep growth momentum going.
- Be honest and open
Honesty and openness are essential to determining goals but also to find out if the mentor and mentee are a good fit for each other. Through being open and honest, you might find out that you do not like or respect the other person. This is better to know before the partnership goes very far so that both of your time and energy could be reinvested into a different partnership.