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The Fundamentals of Mentorship

“Every mentorship has its ebbs and flows. When there isn’t a Goldilocks amount of work to do — Mentees often become bored in the program.”Phidelia Johnson

All of us should occasionally ask ourselves whether we are managing our careers or our careers are managing us. The modern workplace is changing rapidly – thanks to constantly advancing technologies – and we need to quickly adapt while remaining open to possibilities. Most of us have neither the time nor the resources to formally learn and then implement new skills and competencies. That means being open to fresh ideas and learning on the job.

Developing a mentor-protégé relationship creates learning opportunities for both individuals. Do not assume you have nothing in common with older or younger colleagues. It seems logical that you can learn from being a protégé, but I have learned just as much from being a mentor.

Most of us consider our career paths only when we’re contemplating a new role or a new job. However, it is important to pay close attention to your professional trajectory while comfortable in your current assignment. Companies continue to make difficult organizational decisions, such as staff realignments and cost reductions. Too few professionals pay attention to what’s going on inside their organizations, and often even less to critical market trends. They lose a sense of connection with their industries and are often caught off guard when affected – either adversely or favorably – by organizational changes. Knowing where you want to go and how you plan to get there is essential to greater career satisfaction.

If you are a protégé, show your mentor you value his/her time. Approach your mentor with thoughtful questions and prepare to discuss real challenges. Listen carefully to suggestions and report back on your progress. Your mentor is more likely to continue to invest in you if you’re acting on the feedback you receive and you can demonstrate the impact it is having on your career. Over time, mentors can develop into sponsors who use their clout to create opportunities and make connections for you.

Here are some tips for developing a mentor/protégé relationship:

  1. Know what a mentor is and is not.
    1. Mentorship is a relationship in which a more experienced or more knowledgeable person helps to guide a less experienced or less knowledgeable person. The mentor may be older or younger than the protégé, but he/she must have a well-defined area of expertise.
  2. Understand that a good mentor:
    1. Supports, encourages, and provides direction.
    2. Has the expertise and skills you lack.
    3. Shares knowledge, experience, and networks.
    4. Sees you as a whole person, not just a mentee.
  3. A mentor is not your career coach. He/she does not tell you what to do but will share experiences about problems similar to those you might be experiencing along with suggestions for finding solutions.
  4. Go for someone in the same profession who can offer useful insights. Pay attention to the personal side of the relationship. Look for someone:
    1. With similar values.
    2. You respect and trust.
    3. Who is committed to watching you succeed and grow? The experience centers around relationships, so take advantage of opportunities to assist your mentor or mentee outside of the formal relationship.
    4. Who inspires you.

A mentor’s personality is as important as skills and experience. Having mentors with diverse, inspiring backgrounds and personalities will help you build knowledge and maintain a level of creativity and uniqueness. Take charge of your own growth. Ask for specific and meaningful help, but follow your personally developed plans and goals. You have the most to gain from growing and the most to lose from standing still.

Know when to pull the plug. You and your needs will evolve, so it’s natural to move on. But be aware that you’re outgrowing a mentor, not mentorship. Find a replacement, but be thoughtful and sensitive about how you exit the existing relationship. Always remember what your mentor did for you and stay in touch.

The best mentors become advocates for their mentees. When you’re the mentor, begin by understanding your protégé’s career goals, then thinking through the best path forward and ways you can help. Endorse your mentee on social media, recommend him/her for high-profile assignments, and provide access to people in your professional network.

When you are the protégé, never blow off a scheduled meeting for a supposedly “better offer.” Be clear and succinct in your communication, and before a conversation think through exactly what you need to say.

Neither mentors nor mentees are paid for their time. The ultimate compensation is a win on multiple fronts for each person.

“As a mentor, don’t become trapped by perfectionism. Reverse mentoring is good for both mentee and mentor growth.”Phidelia Johnson

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