As we grow professionally, it is beneficial to pursue both informal and formal mentor/mentee relationships, The world is changing rapidly, and how we grow, respond, evolve, succeed and thrive will continue to change. Having trusting relationships with others in order to discuss key issues, exchange ideas, challenge thought processes and just be ourselves is critical to forward momentum in our careers and the success of the organizations where we work and lead.
Ask 10 different people what the definition of a mentor is, and you will likely get 10 different answers. However, positive mentoring relationships all have one common component: a trusting relationship between the mentor and the mentee.
Unfortunately, mentoring is becoming more challenging in today’s world. A recent survey done by the Business Record (3.29.2019) indicated 81% of the respondents believe men are less likely to mentor a woman since #MeToo. While I fully support the increased awareness and transparency that is happening due to #MeToo and other similar movements, we have to be vigilant that opportunities for mentoring relationships do not diminish because of concerns raised about trust.
Not only can men and women collaborate to create workplace environments where we have equality in all aspects, we can also work to ensure we have mentoring relationships that foster the development of all employees, both men and women.
So what steps can we take to ensure mentoring relationships are positive experiences in today’s world? Consider these simple tips to increase the professionalism (and trustworthiness) of any current or future mentoring relationship.
1. Always have a recommendation from someone you trust before meeting with a potential mentor. Ask that person to perform a virtual introduction between you and the potential mentor, whether it is for one meeting or an ongoing relationship.
2. When you connect, plan to meet in public or in an office or conference room with a window or glass door.
3. Personal contact such as hugs, a hand on the arm, or other seemingly casual gestures should be rare. Everyone has a different opinion on this, but if in doubt, don’t do it. If this naturally evolves over time, it would be with the trusting agreement of both parties.
4. If you are uncomfortable meeting one on one, consider setting up a mentoring small group, allowing one or more mentors to work with one or more mentees on a variety of topics.
Mentoring can and should continue to be a part of one’s professional development plan. It is up to all of us to ensure those opportunities continue to exist for men and women alike. We truly are better together.
Moving Beyond Mixers: Making Mentorship Meaningful
So, you’ve signed up to be a mentor(ee)! What’s next? Typically, mentor(ee) introductions get a jump-start with an arranged ‘networking event’ at some hip location where all the other mentor(ees) in the program also meet. For some, like me, networking events—even those designed for one on one interaction with a mentor(ee)—can prove to be a daunting task that is riddled with anxiety and the questions: “What value am I bringing to the table? What value will I get out of being here?” This article addresses an idea of facilitated networking and mentorship. It’s an idea that there are narrowly-tailored action points that can help you not only obtain a mentor(ee) but to maintain a valuable relationship with them.
So, You’re a Mentor!
2. Prepare with an Agenda, Goals, and Expectations.
The foundation of a successful mentorship is your ability to interact with other professionals who have similar goals. Come to the first meeting ready to lead with your goals and expectations. Be mindful of your time commitment. A good mentor dedicates their time and energy to someone else’s needs and should be honest with themselves and their mentee about how much time they can invest. Have goals for your mentee that extend beyond mixers. For example, see if you can invite your mentee to shadow you for a day or if in the same company, invite them to upper-level meetings to understand what goes into executive decision-making. Accompany your mentee to business networking events to relieve some of that pressure of being a lesser-established professional. Seek out classes or projects related to skills your mentee wants to develop. This last example can be as simple as emailing your mentee a link to an event or learning opportunity that may interest them.
3. Ask Questions & Provide Constructive Feedback.
Information is power in mentorship relationships. Don’t assume anything about your mentee—ask. Preparing questions for your mentee will help you get a feel for their goals and current position. Then follow up those questions with feedback and further questions. While it is important to be open and honest with your mentee by providing constructive feedback, also keep in mind that your mentee’s decisions and career path are theirs alone. No two paths are alike and take this opportunity to learn from someone with different experience and perspective.
4. Go to Give
Most events and/or mentorship relationships are mixing bowls for professionals who are there for different reasons, whether it be signing up a new client, meeting prospective employers, creating awareness for their business, or connecting with someone in the hopes of developing a mutually beneficial relationship. Whatever your reasons, remember that you are there to commit your time to and share your value with helping someone have a beneficial mentorship experience. Be positive, optimistic and be generous. Take an interest in and get to know your mentee as a person. Celebrate their achievements. Go to give.
5. Take the Lead and Follow Up
Effective mentoring requires regular interaction between the mentor and mentee. But after the initial few meetings, it can be easy for both parties to let the mentoring relationship slide. People get busy. As workloads rise and deadlines loom, mentoring relationships can get pushed to the back burner. Instead, thread your mentoring meetings/projects/calls/events into your calendar and treat them with the same urgency and necessity as any of your business commitments.
So, You’re a Mentee!
Just like the mentor, come to your meetings with prepared questions, goals, and actionable plans how to complete them. Having these goals and needs set forth right at the beginning will help ensure that you and your mentor are on the same path to your desired target. Manageable actionable pieces are key—nothing feels better than crossing off a to-do item! Also, ask questions that only your mentor can answer about their careers and experiences at work. Remember that it’s also encouraged to disagree with your mentor at times. Constructive disagreement will lead to a beneficial discussion about your perspectives that is much more valuable than merely agreeing with your mentor all the time.
2. Go Programless
Established mentorship programs take a lot of the guesswork out of pairing with a mentor. However, creating your goals will help you identify which individuals you are going to reach out to mentor you if they are not matched to you through a program. Do not be afraid to send a C-suite professional an email asking for a moment of their time. Be sure not to sell anything other than yourself, your drive to perform well, and a desire to gain valuable knowledge from them. Send them three dates and times to choose from as your action piece.
3. Reverse Mentor
Mentoring is not simply limited to established executives mentoring younger professionals! Reverse mentoring can be empowering for a less-established professional because it allows you to share your fresh insights, social media savvy and more. You do not have to limit yourself only to being a mentee, you can do both because you have assets to share as well. Serving as a mentor gives you the opportunity to refine your soft skills such as communication and helps you develop your leadership capabilities.
4. Respect Your Mentor’s Time
Remember that your mentor is a volunteer. Your mentor isn’t there to do the work for you, they’re there to help you do your work better. Show up to your meetings and show up on time. Establish some ground rules around contact so that you know how much time they’re willing to give you. Put the new skills you’ve worked on with them to use in your everyday work. Also, remember that political capital is not infinite—if they’ve opened doors for you, make sure you walk through them. Be sure to receive criticism well and be open minded to coaching. A mentor who only tells you the positives of your choices is not as valuable as one who engages in meaningful discussion about why you are where you are and where you want to be.
5. Don’t Limit Yourself
You can have various mentors for various purposes: peer mentorship, career mentorship, and even life mentorship. That said, be sure to be mindful of each mentor’s time and your ability to commit to each one. Seek out a variety of mentors throughout their careers who can offer guidance and fill gaps in their knowledge and experience in different ways. Reaching out to Young Professional groups to find other go-getters, to C-Suite executives, or to community leaders will help broaden your connections, help you solidify your interests, and open your mentorship circle up to new and fun opportunities.
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