A Guide to Mentoring – Part 1

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If done well, mentoring is extremely valuable and it can have an enormous impact on your career – and your life. I know that my career would not have gone in this direction if it weren’t for a mentor I had many years ago at Microsoft. Unfortunately, the term “mentoring” is used very broadly to cover all types of relationships. Many corporations have initiated “Mentoring programs” where employees are matched into pairs, given a green checkbox in a corporate development system and then after one or two meetings, the “mentoring” die off. Mentoring is hard work, but so is everything else that has to do with your professional development. In this first part of a three-part series on mentoring I will give you a quick guide on the foundations of mentoring, in the second part you will learn how to be an effective mentee and in the third and final part how to be an effective mentor.

1. What is mentoring?

The word “Mentor” derives from the ancient Greeks’.  According to legend, Mentor is the name of the person to whom Odysseus entrusted the care of his son, Telemachus, when Odysseus set out on his famous wanderings. Mentor was Odysseus’ wise and trusted counselor as well as a tutor to Telemachus. Mentor-ship is a special relationship between two people-one more experienced, one fewer experienced-that is both professional and personal. The objective is to help the less experienced person advance in his or her development and meet his or her goals.

2. What are the benefits of mentoring?

A mentor-ship should be fruitful and provide benefits to both the mentor and the mentee.

The benefits for the mentee often include

      • Enhanced professional and career development
      • Help with ideas
      • New and different perspectives
      • Introduction to new people and more organizational exposure
      • Increased ability to navigate difficult situations
      • Better self-confidence
      • Development of creative and independent thinking

The benefits of the mentor often include

      • Improved interpersonal communication skills
      • New informal networks and a “window” into the mind of a younger generation
      • Learning by reflecting on your own career and the discussions the mentoring introduces

According to the Mentor Guide from NCWIT, many mentors also find an:

      • increased sense of purpose through giving back through mentoring and establishing a legacy as leaders
      • feelings of rejuvenation and energy through interacting with their younger colleagues

3. Who should be a mentor?

Mentoring isn’t for everyone and it’s ok to say no. Mentoring someone is a commitment in time, effort and emotions. The purpose of the mentorship is to “help someone less experienced”, so in order to be a mentor, you need to have the experience to share. This doesn’t mean that you need to have grey hair and be approaching retirement; experience isn’t directly tied to age, though often the older you are the more experience you have. In general, successful mentors are good listeners, committed, non-judgmental, discreet (will keep things you talk about confidential), stable and caring.

4. Who should be a mentee?

Being a mentee takes even more time and effort than being a mentor. In order to engage in a mentorship relationship and ask someone to mentor you, you need to make sure that you have the commitment to follow through. You are the one who is responsible for scheduling meetings, following up on action items and changing your behavior. You should only be a mentee if you care about your own professional development, are open to feedback and if you are willing to change.

5. What should the structure of a mentoring relationship look like?

Mark Horstman and Mike Auzenne, the co-founders of Manager Tools, have great recommendations for mentoring structure in their podcast “Basics of Mentoring”. The recommend the following mentorship structure:

      • A time period of 3 years – A mentoring relationship is a long-term commitment; it’s not a quick fix to a problem.  The ideal time period for a mentoring relationship is three years.
      • Periodic follow up over email/phone – Your interactions regarding your professional development should be regular over phone and email.
      • Quarterly face to face meetings– You should schedule face to face meetings at least quarterly.

6. What topics can be covered?

Since mentoring is based on the relationship between two unique individuals, every mentor-ship will be different.  There is no list of topics that should be covered, this is something that the mentor and mentee decide together. The following list provides some examples of topics that can be covered:

    • Managing conflict
    • Career progression
    • Networking
    • Influencing others
    • Managing politics in the office and organization
    • Newest trends in technologies/industries
    • Time management
    • Work/life balance
    • Leadership development
    • Strategies for growth/innovation

It’s up to you to make it work

I know from personal experience how effective mentoring can be. I had one mentor who in our first meeting had me rate different aspects of my life – work/life balance, career progression, health/fitness, etc. on a scale 1-10. After I did he asked me where I wanted to be. This is also important because you might be content with an 8 out of 10 for fitness or you might be ok with 7 out of 10 when it comes to work/life balance in a particular period of your life. After I rated all dimensions he told me to make an action plan for each dimension in order to bridge the gap between where I was currently and where I wanted to be. Each time we met I had to share with him where I was according to plan. It really made me realize that I am in control of all aspects of my life and it is up to me to make it work!

(If you have difficulties reading this article, you can access the full article in pdf here)