“A mentor is someone who allows you to see the hope inside yourself.” — Oprah Winfrey.
“Mentorship” is a buzzword that we hear often in the world of work. Companies want to create programs. Employees want mentors. But mentorship is not one size fits all. In this article, we’ll discuss what mentorship is (and isn’t), share our mentorship stories, and offer some tips on how to maximize your experience as a mentor.
WHAT IS A MENTOR?
n the world of work, we often think of mentorship as a company-imposed pairing of two individuals. Formal mentorship programs can be helpful for many companies, but not all. And while the value of mentorship may be different from person to person or company to company, there is one certainty — mentorship is a valuable experience.
SO, WHAT IS A MENTOR REALLY?
A mentor is defined by dictionary.com as “a wise and trusted counselor or teacher” and “an influential senior sponsor or supporter.” It can be a formal or informal relationship, but it should entail a pairing of individuals in a mutually beneficial situation. In the best mentor-mentee pairings, the mentor will also learn from the mentee! Beyond that, what mentorship is like is really up to you and your mentee. Each mentor/mentee relationship is unique, as every mentee is unique!
TRACIE’S MENTOR STORY
I was born eager to learn about everything. And that continues to this day. As a deep introvert, my learning has been easiest one on one. So, mentor relationships were tailor made for me early in my career!
One of my earliest mentors was Benita Joseph, my supervisor at UPS. As a Human Resources Specialist, I was part of a large team at a large facility. I learned HR as a compliance-first discipline, so that’s how I practiced. Things were right or wrong. (That is not at all how I practice today!) My supervisor patiently watched me as I navigated a relationship with a rebellious colleague who did not do things “by the book.” I couldn’t stand him. She knew that. So, she assigned me to work for him! More than two decades later, I still point to that as a turning point in my career.
I obviously was less than thrilled at first, but working for someone I didn’t agree with set the foundation for my future leadership positions. In this case, my mentor, my wise and trusted counselor, was also my supervisor. She knew what I needed to help me in my career.
Later, I would go on to have a series of mentors inside and outside of the world of HR, mentors external to my organization. But that first mentorship experience stayed with me always. When I later became a mentor to others, I tried to take what I learned from my mentors, and bring the patience, ability to listen without judgment, and the kind approach that I had from so many. I’m still learning, but I’m a better mentor to others because of my own mentors.
NIKKI’S MENTOR STORY
As a new graduate coming out of my Master’s program, I was excited to enter into the workforce with my first professional job at a large industrial distribution company located in Chicago, IL. My first position was in the Marketing & Communications department. I was surrounded by many seasoned Marketing professionals, and I was eager to learn from them.
Within a week of starting by new job, I connected with a woman in my department, Marianne C., who would quickly become a person who not only helped me get started in my new position, she would later become my mentor who helped guide me down the career path that I am on today.
There are many directions you can take when starting your career in Marketing and Communications. I thought for sure that because of my love for writing and my skillset in corporate communications, that my career path would go in this direction. Well, let’s just say, after about a year into my career and connecting with Marianne any chance I got, I realized where my passion truly lies.
At the beginning of her mentorship, she would let me sit in on her meetings, see how she manages her programs and teams. She was showing me the way, not telling me what to do. She would eventually start handing over programs for me to run for her. This eventually, without me even realizing it, was her way of helping me see the value I can bring to program management and team development.
Marianne’s guidance, her words of wisdom, her persistence to help me see that while my passion for the creative side of marketing was there, my true passion and skillset was in program management and leading teams. I am forever grateful for her mentorship because had I not taken the opportunity to connect with her like I did, I’m not sure if I would have found my true passion as early as I did in my career.
HOW TO GET THE MOST OUT OF YOUR MENTOR EXPERIENCE
So, you are ready to be a mentor? You may still have a lot of questions. One of your first questions may be how do I find a mentee? You may not have to look far; you may have been approached already. If not, you can certainly look within your workplace. But, consider external sources as well. Mentorships between individuals who do not work together can be very powerful. Look at organizations or clubs you belong to. LinkedIn or other social networking sites you use. Your local Chamber of Commerce or industry association can also be great places to find mentees.
Once you’ve found a mentee, they will (or should) help guide you by discussing what they want to get out of the relationship. But, you should be prepared as well.
Here are 10 tips from Hubspot to help you on your mentorship journey:
- Understand what you want out of the relationship;
- Set expectations together in the beginning;
- Take genuine interest in your mentee;
- Build trust;
- Know when to give advice;
- Don’t assume anything about your mentee – ask;
- Share your journey;
- Celebrate their achievements;
- Seek out resources to help your mentee grow; and
- Be sure you have the bandwidth.