Done properly, mentors provide a sounding board at critical career points, supporting and guiding on a specific career path. They help provide us with a unique perspective on the challenges we face, due to their understanding of us as individuals and – usually – an appreciation of the business or sector we work in.
A recent survey by the Accountemps recruitment company found that 86% of executives saw having a mentor as an important tool for career development. That said, only a quarter of those surveyed actually had someone they could regularly turn to for advice and guidance.
This could be for one of two reasons:
- We don’t know how to find a good mentor, or
- There aren’t many good mentors about
Finding a good mentor isn’t as easy as it sounds. There are a number of factors that you need to consider.
People need to be clear about what they actually need in a mentor
What skills are you looking to develop? What gaps in your knowledge and experience are you looking to fill? You need to be honest with yourself about what you need from a mentor in order to find one who can support you in the right way. As we develop and grow, so too will our mentoring requirements change. Some mentors will grow with us and sometimes we will need to draw on more than one mentor to help us develop and fulfil our true potential. Set yourself a twelve month plan about what you hope to gain out of a mentor/mentee relationship and be sure to review it – with your mentor – at regular intervals during the year as you would any other development intervention.
People should consider working styles when choosing a mentor
Choosing a mentor based on the person you want to be is dangerous – you shouldn’t be looking to fundamentally change the way you are, but more to learn certain skills, such as empathy, collaboration and reflection, that will help you do your job better. By choosing a mentor with a complimentary work style you will avoid personality clashes and ensure that you get the most out of their support and guidance.
People should look for mentors who can listen as much as they talk
A successful mentoring relationship is a 360 one. Your mentor needn’t have been down the same career path that you have, nor should they just feed you the answers to the challenges you face. They are there to act as a sounding board and provide valuable insight that helps you reach your own conclusions. This can only be done if the communication is open, genuine and two-way.
So what does it take to be a great mentor?
Mentoring is a different relationship than the traditional manager / worker one and to become a great mentor you have to see the mentee as an individual, rather than a subordinate. You have to be prepared to look beneath the mentee’s work performance and develop an appreciation of their personal life to truly understand what drives the business decisions they make and shapes the way they behave at work.
Forbes.com describes a great mentor as someone who is ‘honest and unafraid to tell you hard truths about yourself and your work’. They ‘push you to take risks and aim higher’.
More often than not, the best quality that a mentor can have is the ability to inspire. To make people aspire to be better people and to give them the confidence to believe they can achieve what they set out to do.
Great mentors get as much value out of the relationship as mentees do. Some of this value is obvious: improved relationship management skills, deeper insight into how people think and operate, as well as experience in challenging, exploring and testing alternative theories and perspectives, which they can then replicate in their own work.
If you’re looking for more information on how to get the best out of people, this TEDTalk playlist is worth a look.