A good mentor should be supportive but also prepared to challenge your thinking and perspective. Ideally, your mentor can suspend judgment and encourage you to reflect on a range of options. Rapport is essential in establishing a relationship that is open and honest so you will experience maximum benefit from the mentoring.
It should work something like this:
- A partnership;
- Offers ongoing support and development;
- Places focus on learning and development;
- To explore work-related issues and solutions to problems.
When it works well a mentoring relationship is invaluable as an effective learning and development tool.
What does a mentor look like?
Find someone with a commitment to developing others, with a mindset that encourages those being mentored to take responsibility for themselves and to realize their potential. This is not about words of wisdom, or sage advice based dropped from above. A mentor is someone with the experience to help you formulate questions and assess the pros and cons of a variety of approaches and solutions.
The idea is that mentoring helps you to learn and grow with a view to becoming a more independent and experienced manager rather than being reliant on your mentor. So you see that good questioning skills and the ability to envisage alternatives and explore innovative solutions is more important than a directive approach.
Challenge to improve
- Your mentor is someone whose integrity you trust so that their input, whether positive or negative, is credible and effective;
- Your mentor raises issues you may not want to discuss but gives you room to explore and focus;
- Your mentor works with you so you grow and develop as an employee and a manager;
- Your mentor makes you feel secure enough to take risks, to conquer your doubts and fears and to reach for your aspirations with both hands;
- A mentor challenges you to set stretch goals for yourself doesn’t let you settle for the status quo or put up with second-best and helps you to reach for goals you might not have set on your own.
Essentially a mentor is not there to tell you what to do but to help you work out for yourself what is right for you and what will help you achieve your goals and fulfill your potential. Mentoring is supposed to be collaborative, with both parties having input on topics for discussion.
Making mentoring work
Take your time in finding the right mentor, it’s a personal relationship and you need real, hands-on feedback from a professional who has a genuine interest in you and your career. It’s probably better to choose someone other than your line manager, but do avoid too much of a hierarchy gap or experience gap in the relationship.
When you approach someone you trust and respect to ask them to mentor you it is to be hoped that they will see it as an honor and a pleasure to work with you, but it has to be voluntary and you have to nurture the process and establish a level of mutual respect. You may need to work with a specific person for a while, but mentoring is not necessarily a long-term option and you may find that some other mentor will help you with different aspects of your career.
Try not to think in terms of promotion but of developing as a person and a professional.