Mentoring: Are you ready to mentor or to be mentored?

By Guest Author Vicki Donlan

It is widely assumed that with age there is wisdom, yet it is the experience that really matters. Parents are naturally recognized as the first mentors in one’s life as they command the rules and boundaries based on their experiences as children having been guided by their parents. The relationship is based on the sincere desire to prevent the child from making the same mistakes they themselves made. This ‘do as I say rather than I did (or do)’, however, is not really mentoring. It is rather dictatorship by proxy. Learning by experience is how we gain the perspective to see beyond the boundaries and that winning and losing have equal value.

True mentors must be guides who expand our viewpoint and allow us to see situations from diverse angles. They are active listeners who have more questions than answers. They understand that there is a fine line between being a mentor or a mentee as it is a give and take relationship that in order to be productive must be win-win.

Yes, a mentor provides the ‘what you need to know’ that you don’t even know to ask about.

Before any mentorship relationship can be undertaken the following questions must be considered:

For the mentor:

(1)  Are you willing to put the necessary time into getting to know your protégé (mentee)?

(2)  Are you a good listener?

(3)  Can you asking probing questions without being judgmental?

(4)  Can you be a cheerleader for your mentee?

(5)  Are your expectations for your mentee flexible?

(6)  Do you look for opportunities rather than solutions?

(7)  Do you see your role as an opportunity for personal growth?

If the answer to any of these seven questions is NO, mentoring is not for you.

For the mentee:

(1)  Are you willing to put the necessary time into getting to know your mentor?

(2)  Are you willing to listen and respect advice based on experience and then filter it for your particularly situation?

(3)  Can you honestly respond to questions that dig deep into why you make the choices you make?

(4)  Can you open yourself up to trusting a mentoring relationship?

(5)  Are your expectations for your mentor flexible?

(6)  Are you willing to look at situations from all angles?

(7)  Do you see your role as an opportunity for personal growth?

It is imperative that a mentee be able to answer these questions affirmatively.

Once you know that you are ready to be mentored, the question is how do you find a mentor? The answer to this most frequently asked question is: it depends. It depends on the type of mentor you are looking for. For example, many large corporations have formal mentoring programs where a senior level employee is required to assist a younger or newer employee with career path opportunities in the company. This relationship is based on the company’s need to mold junior employees into team players for future advancement. Research shows that mentoring programs increase employee performance and retention, and these issues matter to the bottom line of every organization. Since often these relationships are assigned and not based on personal preference, the prospective mentee should be prepared to choose a mentor based on previous collegiality. However, some firms will inquire about the mentee’s comfort level with senior staff before making the selection. These mentoring relationships are monitored closely by the company and considered part of an employee’s performance review.

When a less formal mentorship relationship is sought, a mentee wanna-be must seek out the prospective mentor.

Generally, mentoring relationships are started because of the admiration the mentee has for the mentor. For the relationship to work successfully this initial admiration must develop over time into a shared opportunity for personal growth. It can’t be stressed enough that the mentoring relationship must be a mutually beneficial one. Remember, that although asking someone to be your mentor may be considered an honor there is absolutely no obligation that the request be granted. Not everyone is suited to be a mentor. Not everyone is willing or capable of sharing their time, expertise and networks with someone they consider to be less experienced or advanced. If you ask the question and are rebuked don’t take it personally as it may be that the individual you asked doesn’t feel prepared for the role. In other words, in almost every case, every individual can be deemed a mentor or a mentee at various degrees in their career. We all need guidance and counsel during our lifetime as personal growth comes with experience and we all advance at different speeds. The relationship will only work when both parties are prepared to assume the mentor and mentee roles. So, a “no thanks” is a better answer than a less than honest undertaking of the mentorship.

In conclusion, there are few relationships that can be as powerful and influential as the mentor/mentee relationship. It can transform both individuals in ways that have direct impact on career and personal development. There is nothing more satisfying than having the opportunity to participate in someone else’s self awakening. Mentors are important because we all need the belief that we are worthy of another person’s time and experience and we all need to be needed. So reach out and become a mentor.

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Vicki Donlan is a business coach, speaker and author of Her Turn: Why It’s Time for Women to Lead in America. She was recently named one of “50 Women Entrepreneurs Who Inspire Us” by youngentrepreneur.com. Learn more at VickiDonlan.com.

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