“You should get a mentor Kerrie” I nodded my head in agreement. But what actually was a mentor and how could I find one and why couldn’t my manager be my mentor?
If you have thought about getting a mentor but are not really sure what a mentor does and how or where to start then this is a blog for you.
Mentoring has been around for years in an unofficial capacity and in more recent times we have seen the emergence of formal programs within organisations and across organisations as the benefits to an organisation and individuals have been appreciated. There are many different definitions and variations out there but at the heart of any mentoring relationship is a partnership in which there is typically someone (the mentor) who has knowledge and experience in a specific area that the other person (the mentee) is looking to develop.
The ideal mentoring relationship is about providing a safe environment in which career plans and ideas can be openly shared and support can be sought in terms of making them become a reality. This support can take many forms, it can be empathetic, challenging, strategic, and it can be about making connections. When a mentoring relationship is effective it can unlock confidence in the mentee and give them the belief that something is possible.
This may sound like the role of your manager and yes to a degree a line manager is focused on your development but a line manager’s priorities and decisions are closely tied to the aims of the team and the organisation as a whole. Whereas with a mentor the priority is to put your needs first and can provide a wider perspective across the organisation or even beyond.
How can mentoring support you?
There are many advantages to having a mentor such as:
- Dedicated time to talk about your development in a safe and confidential environment.
- An opportunity to deepen your knowledge and gain new skills.
- Time to explore your thinking from a different perspective.
- Build new or deepen existing connections and open new networks for you.
- Provides an accountability buddy and gives you the courage to take action.
However, a mentoring relationship is not one-sided, the mentor can also take learnings from their mentee. It gives them an opportunity to reflect and may evoke fresh thinking as they step into the shoes of their mentee. Speaking from personal experience, I take something from every meeting I have had with a mentee because we never stop learning. There will be something they said or experienced that will spark a thought or an idea for me such as this blog!
How to identify a potential mentor?
Working out your goals and what you’re hoping your mentor can help you with is key to a successful partnership. Start by thinking about your priority, the objective you want to focus on, and the goal you want to achieve. This may be career advancement or maybe a career change. Perhaps there is a specific skill you want to enhance. It could be about your well-being and striking a better balance between your work and home life. Perhaps it is about raising your visibility and growing your network within your organisation.
A mentoring relationship can support many areas of development for the mentee and to secure the right mentor for you, start by considering what the key focus for your career is in the next 6 to 12 months. Because we are looking for a person who will be the best fit for right now. (The typical length of a formal mentoring relationship is 6 months).
Once you are clear on your key priority start to think about who has the knowledge, the skills, and the connections in this area. For example, if you are interested in a different part of the business who would be a good connection for you as a mentor? If you want to enhance your knowledge who is strong in this area? If you want to appear more confident in the presence of others who do you regard as being super confident? If you want to create a better work-life balance without damaging your career prospects who seems to have a handle on this?
Finding a mentor is not about choosing someone you like and regard as similar to yourself, it’s about finding someone who has the potential to guide you in an area you want to develop outside of your comfort zone, so when thinking about a mentor also step outside your comfort zone.
Securing a mentor and the relationship
Now you have identified someone, begin to build your story sharing why you want a mentor and how you think they could be a good fit. Yes it may be daunting asking them, and yes they may say no, but at the same time, it’s an opportunity to connect with someone and show them who you are and how serious you are about your development.
To help you create a good impression be prepared to share the following:
- A brief overview of you, your career history and a little flavour of who you are outside of work.
- Explain what your career challenge is and why you think mentoring could help you.
- Share with them why you think they could be a good mentor for you.
- And what you would be requiring from them. For example, what you will want their guidance on, how frequently you would like to meet with them and the need for confidentiality. These are all aspects you will need to bottom out if they say yes.
And perhaps consider a final point which is if they don’t feel they are the right person for you based on what you have shared do they have any recommendations.
When you find your mentor here are 5 steps to make it a success
- Take ownership of the agenda and set the calendar invites up for the agreed time and frequency.
- Think ahead of each session and decide what you want to focus on and what you want to take away from the session.
- Be specific about what you are seeking their guidance on.
- Take a note of actions both parties agreed to and follow up after with confirmations.
- Be open and share your learnings, and your concerns.
Now time for action, what could a mentor help you with?
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If you are currently struggling with a challenge at work and would like to understand how career coaching could help you, take advantage of my free career coaching intro sessions. All you need to do is book a session here and let me know what the challenge is you need help with.