The benefits of mentoring throughout various career stages has been the basis of many great debates. With the transition to a coaching leadership style, many individuals believe that this removes the need for promoting the benefits of mentor programs or seeking out a career mentor. The reality is however that successful people still have mentors.
The misconception however is that a mentor relationship has to be a formal agreement with predetermined outcomes that are measureable. It is true, a formal mentor relationship will define outcomes however, the nature of a mentor relationship, means that there is a degree of flexibility required. Initially determined outcomes most likely will change during the course of the relationship.
There are some key things that individuals need to be aware of about mentoring to allow them to realise the benefits for themselves.
What is a mentor?
A mentor is generally an individual that has experience and knowledge that is of value to another professional. They will generally understand the industry or role of the individual that they are mentoring or have experience in an area that the mentee is keen to develop understanding and awareness of. What is important here is that a mentor needs to be someone that is willing to share the good, the bad and the ugly. They are happy to talk about their failures, their successes and their challenges in a light that does not create misconceptions or unrealistic expectations from the mentee.
Who can be a mentor?
The reality is everyone will have the opportunity of being a mentor if they want throughout their career. It is important to consider that many people perceive that a mentor should be older than the mentee; this is a complete misconception. A mentor relationship is about what the mentor can bring from their own career or experience to another individual with age being irrelevant. In a lot of mentor relationships that are cross-generational, the level of experience and differing perspectives heighten the outcome and success for both the mentor and the mentee.
How do I choose a mentor?
The level of connection between the mentor and mentee is extremely important to the success of the relationship. This means that you have to be able to build trust, respect and appreciation for the knowledge and contribution that both the mentee and mentor bring to the relationship. For this reason, when choosing a mentor, you need to look beyond qualifications, age and gender and to what it is you wish to gain from the overall experience. Be open to mentoring from someone quite different to yourself or someone similar. What is the most important thing however when choosing a mentor is that you are able to develop a level of rapport that will drive open and honest communication and mutual respect.
When is the right time to get a mentor?
The right time to get a mentor for most people is when they are looking at enhancing their career beyond what they can achieve through formal education and training. This is the reason why many successful people start their career with a mentor and as they develop they transition their mentor relationship to continue to support their growth and development. The first mentor you have in your career may have a substantial influence on your career direction, success and commitment; but they will not always be your mentor. A good mentor will identify when it is time for their mentee to find a new mentor that will provide something new and continue to challenge the mentee. For this reason, you should not be looking at when is the right time to get a mentor but rather what is the reason for not having a mentor? (I doubt you will find many!)
The value of a mentor for all professionals is well known, which is the reason that most successful people have had, have now or are a mentor themselves.
To decide for yourself if a mentor will benefit you, look beyond where are you are at in your career to where you want to be and look to others that are already there. Ask yourself, what can you learn from their experience and failures? The reality is that this level of knowledge and experience will never be found in a text book.