Mentors (and sponsors, and coaches) are important for career advancement. The benefits multiply when each side knows what they bring to the table, and what they get out of the relationship.
Note: This post is about mentors, but the same principles can extend to any trusting relationship at work.
Having mentors is critical to success
I know firsthand the value of strong mentor relationships. In the past year my troupe of advisors have helped me put feedback about being ‘demanding’ in perspective, joined forces with me to drive inclusion, and provided a sounding board about my next career step. I can call on this group when I am feeling stuck, in need of allies, or faced with a significant decision. In fact, I found my last two roles through my amazing mentors.
There are many reasons mentoring is valuable to the person being mentored: learning new things, spending time with someone more advanced in career or life, accessing opportunities and get unbiased and confidential advice.
Being a mentor can be just as valuable
Being on the other side of the table, as a mentor, can be just as rewarding. You expand your network and identify potential future employees. And, as a mentor, you spend time with someone in a different career stage and can learn about their thinking and mindsets. Some companies have instituted reverse mentoring programs to capture the value of connecting across generations.
Mentoring can also be a way to learn about yourself. Notice who seeks you out for mentoring, and which mentor meetings generate energy. Are they people who are ‘like you’, or people who are similar to an earlier version of yourself? This is an opportunity to hone your coaching skills. Practice asking open ended questions and guiding someone towards their own solution, all in a low-pressure environment.
Both sides can get tremendous value from a mentoring relationship, if done right!
So, how to be a good mentee?
- Allow time for the relationship to develop: like any human connection it may take a while
- Bring real challenges: don’t expect your mentor to drive your conversations, the relationship is about helping YOU and you know your own challenges best!
- Be vulnerable: share the things that are hard to talk about in this safe space
- Make it a two-way conversation: ask your mentor what is on their mind, what problems they are working through
- Know when to move on: if you notice diminishing returns, or if your mentor helped you through a point-in-time situation, feel free to stop meeting regularly. Your mentor will appreciate the transparency!
Mentors can up their game too
- Prioritize your mentee: don’t reschedule or cancel unless absolutely necessary, this can be demoralizing
- Get curious: ask questions and really listen to what your mentee has to say
- Don’t drive the conversation: push your mentee to bring real challenges to the table
- Be vulnerable: open up and share things about yourself, this is good for building trust and for practicing authentic leadership
- Bring enthusiasm: if you aren’t looking forward to your sessions, understand why and take action to revamp the or end the relationship
And, as usual, the obligatory powerpoint (a rule instituted by A):
January is national mentoring month – take a moment to celebrate being a mentor and say thank you to the mentors in your life!