Who is your most memorable or impactful mentor? I find it hard to identify just one. I count myself as fortunate to have several people I could put on that list! So what makes a mentor impactful for you?
I met Sree during a facilitation class and a few months later we reconnected again during our coaching class. She shared with me a blog she recently wrote on her experience of being a mentor and mentee and I asked her if I could share it! What’s important about these relationships is that like any good relationship the effectiveness comes in the design and being clear about your intentions. Here’s some guidance from Sree, hope you enjoy!
Mentoring has been one of the most rewarding parts of my career. I was fortunate to have some awesome mentors and had an opportunity to mentor others as well. Here are some of the lessons learned during my mentorship journey in a professional context.
What is Mentoring?
I recently attended “Agile Coaching” training by TeamCatapult. It is one of the best trainings I have attended and it changed the way I looked at mentoring. Per the definition provided in that training – “Mentoring is providing wisdom and guidance based on experience in the subject matter at hand, in order to support others in the quest to make sense of their world.” One of the key takeaways from that training – “As a mentor, ask thought-provoking questions and help find mentee generated solutions instead of just giving advice. Mentoring works best when advising is kept to a minimum.”
If I look back, as a mentor, I have mostly given a lot of advice and failed to ask powerful questions. This is one thing I am going to definitely change going forward.
Why Do You Need a Mentor/Mentee?
Being a mentor, you would get a chance to share your expertise and help someone else in their career journey. You would get to hear some of the challenges you might not have faced and have an opportunity to help mentee explore solutions. Improves your listening and leadership skills. You would be able to expand your impact to beyond your immediate team. Most importantly, it is a way to pay it forward and personally I found it to be very gratifying to be a mentor. You can read more about one of my mentorship experiences here.
Being a mentee, you would be able to learn from experts in your area. Helps you learn different ways to deal with things and offers you a different perspective. Helps you expand your professional network. I did not seek out mentors until recently and realize what a missed opportunity that is. I should have seeked out mentors earlier in my career.
You don’t necessarily need to have a mentor if you need advice for technical issues. You can ask any SME for advice for technical issues. Power of mentorship comes into play because of the safe space that is provided which enables you to share sensitive/conflicting situations. The most benefit I received was when I was in a very tough situation at work and I could not share the details with anyone. Luckily I built a trusting relationship with my mentor and was able to share the details and get much-needed advice at that time.
Types of Mentorship Engagement
Here are different types of mentorship engagements based on my experience:
- Time bound – limited for a specific duration – a month, 6 months etc.
- Goal based – Getting support for a specific goal like completing a project or getting your next promotion etc.
- Need based – ongoing mentorship where you have a mentor to be your sounding board whenever there is a need.
How to Find a Mentor/Mentee?
If you are looking for a mentor, identify your goals from the mentorship engagement. Find a subject matter expert within your team or outside your team or from a different company. Advantage of having a mentor from your company is that they will be able to guide you based on your company culture. Pick someone outside of your immediate team so that you would get a chance to see how other teams operate and learn a different perspective.
You can have multiple mentors however be mindful about it since it is a time commitment both on your side and the mentor’s side. I had mentors both within my team and outside my team. That worked well for me. Depending on the topic I needed help with, I was able to get guidance from one of the mentors.
Another option to find a mentor is through your company’s official mentorship program, if there is one.
If you are looking for a mentee, check with your team members to see if anyone needs a mentor. Reach out to new employees and offer to be a mentor. Sign up for your company’s official mentorship program if there is one.
Tips to Be an Effective Mentor
“The delicate balance of mentoring someone is not creating them in your own image, but giving them the opportunity to create themselves.” — Steven Spielberg
This quote perfectly summarizes how you need to approach mentorship.
Here are some tips:
- Be available when your mentee needs you. If at any point of time, you are unable to give the mentee the time they need, be candid about it and suggest that they find a different mentor or recommend someone else that can make the time to help.
- Provide a safe and trusting space for your mentee to share his/her problems.
- Give the mentoring relationship some time to evolve.
- Let the mentee drive the agenda.
- Set boundaries on your time availability.
- If any topics are out of bounds, say so.
- Similar to coaching, before giving advice, ask powerful questions to help the mentee come up with his/her own solution. Here are a couple of sites with some powerful questions:
- Keep your advice to a minimum and do not be attached to your advice.
- Ask the mentee if he/she wants to be held accountable for any action items and if yes, then ask for specific next steps and dates. Follow up on the action items as agreed.
- If you are unable to help the mentee with their goals, try to put your mentee in touch with someone that can help them.
Tips For a Mentee
- Set goals about what you want to achieve from the mentorship. Ex: improve public speaking skills, improve leadership skills etc.
- Be proactive and drive the mentoring relationship.
- Define your expectations – ex: time commitment you would require from the mentor, meet in person or on phone etc.
- If you do not know who would be a good mentor for you, ask your manager for suggestions.
- Not all mentorship relationships work for various reasons. It is important to evaluate if the mentorship is actually adding value to you or not and if not, then discuss with your mentor and figure out the best course of action – either change the goals or change the mentor. Do not give up on mentorship if this happens.
- Respect your mentors time. If you have agreed on next steps, follow through.
Hope this inspires you to find a mentor/mentee if you don’t already have one. You don’t necessarily need to have an official mentor/mentee relationship. I have some colleagues that I look up to and they have unofficially mentored me. Identify who those people are and nurture your mentoring relationship with them.
This post was first published on Technical Program Manager on December 24, 2019.