Most of us can use the input and guidance from someone that has experience, knowledge, and lives “outside our heads” – a mentor. Now I am not talking about the old slap on the back, I’ll take care of you, work the back channels type. I mean someone who can listen to you, frame your issues, and help you to help yourself. A good mentor works with you to block out “noise” and enables you to focus on solutions.
“A mentor sees more talent and ability within you, than you see in yourself, and helps bring it out of you.” ~ Bob Proctor
The basics of mentoring involve two people at a minimum (a mentor and mentee) that meet regularly and work to resolve key issues the mentee is facing. The specifics get worked out between the individuals at the start of the relationship. Sometimes the relationships are short-lived, others go on for decades. What’s important is that there’s an understanding that the mentee solves their own issue(s); the mentor role is to offer input, guidance, and support.
I mentored a smart, middle manager that was looking to ascend into a senior role. Together we identified the gaps in her skills and communication style, and put together a plan that prepared her for the next level. She executed the plan, we reviewed her progress each month, and within six months she was promoted to a Director level position.
The goal of a mentoring session is that the mentee emerges with a plan to address an issue. Both parties should agree to a follow-up session to track progress, make adjustments and hopefully – celebrate success. The process is then repeated one issue at a time.
The key to a mentor/mentee relationship is trust – what happens between the two, must stay between them. Often as the relationship grows, the depth of the issues being addressed become more sensitive. Hence, confidentiality is crucial to the relationship.
There are no rules that a mentor must be senior member of your organization, work in a certain industry, or even be over a certain age. I always liked mentors who were outside my general functional area; they often have a unique and fresh perspective that you could not otherwise obtain. Mentors come in all shapes and sizes – what matters is that they can create an open environment, listen and help the mentee sort through the issues and opportunities.
“I am not a teacher, but an awakener.” ~ Robert Frost
Some companies and organizations have formal mentoring programs which set ground rules and match mentees with mentors. Others do not. Check to see if your company has a mentoring program. If not, groups such as PMI offer free mentoring programs to their members. You can also find mentors through professional networking groups – or, there are accredited mentoring services your can find via a google search.
If you company does not support a mentoring program, you can still have an internal mentor-mentee relationship. You will have to find a willing partner and manage your relationship outside of normal channels.
An interesting idea proposed by the Vaya Group is that you have a “network of mentors,” instead of one primary mentor-mentee relationship. This offers you the chance to interact with a group of others who might help you in different ways. Mentors can be hard to find – but, the more the merrier as long as there is no duplication of efforts.
Finally, how often should a mentor and mentee meet? It depends on schedules and the issue being addressed. Usually, we recommend they meet one time per month at a minimum. But what’s important is that there is progress in between meetings so there is something to review each time a meeting is held.
Mentoring is a program that brings value to an individual and organization with little cost. My experience is that both the mentor and mentee benefit from the experience. I encourage you to give it a try.
What do you think? What are your experiences? I’d like to hear from you.