A number of my clients are working alongside mentors. Some of these mentors have been chosen by the leader. With others, the mentors have singled out the leader as a high-potential individual with whom they want to partner; and still others have been assigned a mentor through a formalized mentoring program sponsored within their organization. Often I am asked, “How do I make the most of this relationship?” Mentees struggle with how to best take advantage of the experience offered by the mentor; and mentors wonder how they can be most effective with their newly established relationship. There are many ways to skin this cat; yet a few perspectives which I have seen present in the most effective mentoring arrangements:
1. Focus on what you can learn and what you can teach – from both perspectives. This may seem apparent, yet often mentoring relationships turn into a simple networking relationship; i.e., “who can the mentor introduce to me to further my career?” This is a missed opportunity. We need to focus on what we want to learn as mentees – whether this be new skills, new industry knowledge, or even how to navigate through corporate waters. Throughout our careers, we need and want different things from our mentors and teachers. One size most certainly does not fit all – and we need different things depending on where we are in our careers and what we need and want. Who says you can only have one mentor? Many of you have heard me speak about the several types of mentors each professional needs to consider including in their lives; think about it…in what areas do you need to grow and who can be an asset to you in this journey?
2. Mentors – it is simply not about you. We have all been in conversations when the person hearing your story wants to ‘one-up’ your experience with something they have endured in their career. It is the infamous “I have walked 10 miles in the snow with no shoes” story. Sure, there are times when the mentee wants to hear your story and learn how you managed your way through or around the obstacle. However, the guiding principle here is what you can teach or offer through your experience. This is not your opportunity to lament about your failures or accomplishments – unless it can truly benefit and help your mentee.
3. The most successful relationships are those that encourage and support vulnerability and heightened self-awareness. As mentees, it is often scary to admit our shortcomings and embrace our blind spots. Yet, without doing so, we cannot move forward. Heightened self awareness is a requirement to learning and growing. What do we observe about ourselves? What are we noticing about our reactions, our approaches, and how these are serving us (or not)? Mentors can help hold the mirror for us – and mentees must be receptive to hearing and embracing the feedback and observations.
We as individuals will have the opportunity in our careers to serve a mentor for others, as well as be served by our own mentors. One parting thought: we are all in this together, regardless of the role you are playing at this particular time. “A rising tide lifts all boats” – so when in doubt, reach out to another. Share openly. Pay it forward.