The Importance of Mentorship: Building the Mentoring Relationship (Part IV)

Previously discussed topics were the importance of mentoring and leadership, as well as the roles of a mentor and roles of a mentee. To view the entire series:

This post will dive into what is required to build the mentoring relationship. I’m going to take a different approach this time; instead of writing a bunch of paragraphs, I am going to summarize the phases of the mentoring relationship by using an outline. Let’s see how this goes!

At the beginning of the mentoring relationship, the mentor and mentee should discuss how the partnership should be structured. Regardless of whether the mentoring relationship takes a formal structure, there are typically a few phases that take place:

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  • Building rapport
    • In this phase the mentor and mentee are exploring whether or not they can work together.
    • Simply get acquainted with one another (number of years in the industry, technical skillset, common skills, similar career paths, etc.)
    • Determine purpose of relationship and establish expectations.
    • Active listening, being respectful, being open and honest help build reciprocal trust in this stage.
  • Setting direction
    • This phase is all about setting goals. Once there is rapport and the relationship has established its sense of purpose, then determine what should be achieved.
    • Discuss the overall mentoring goals; for example, the following questions could be asked:
      • What are your visions and career aspirations?
      • Where is your career right now?
      • What are your strengths, weaknesses?
      • What is your behavioral style?
      • What is your leadership style?
      • What are your top three goals?
      • How can the mentoring relationship help to build new technical skills, explore new ideas, forge a new career path, expand your network, etc.?
    • If this is a formal mentoring process, a “Mentoring Partnership Agreement” could be established to determine clear goals, roles, and responsibilities, as well as setting a schedule.
  • Recap and progress
    • Recap the mentoring sessions at the end of each session. Also consider reviewing the progress between sessions at the beginning of the session.
    • The progression piece is typically the longest of all the phases. This phase can be perpetual depending on the length of the mentoring relationship.
    • Work together to accomplish the established goals.

Qualities of a successful mentoring relationship:

  • Articulation – the mentor should be able to help the mentee articulate their feelings, thoughts and ideas. The mentee may still be learning this skill.
  • Listening – both the mentee and the mentor should exhibit active listening skills.
  • Respect – without respect, the relationship will not achieve a level of openness required for successful mentoring.
  • Goal clarity – both the mentee and mentor need to have a clear understanding of the mentee’s objectives. It would also be good for the mentee to know the mentor’s goals in order for the relationship to be more reciprocal.
  • Challenging – the mentee and mentor should both be challenged during this relationship.
  • Self-awareness – the mentor should be proactive and insightful in order to appropriately guide the mentee using his or her own experience. The mentee should be self-aware in order to be able learn from the mentor’s example and advice.
  • Commitment to learning – both the mentor and the mentee should be learning and growing as a part of this relationship.
  • Reflection / preparation – a common reason why mentoring relationships fail is because one party or both fails to invest time preparing for or carrying through with the time investment.

 

The Importance of Mentoring: The Roles of the Mentee (Part III)

Previously discussed was the importance of mentoring and leadership, as well as the roles of a mentor. This post will cover the various responsibilities of the mentee. To view the entire series:

Studies have shown that mentors typically select their protégés based on performance and potential. Mentors will continue to invest in the relationship when mentees use their time well and are truly open to feedback.

Often when we think of a mentor/mentee relationship, it is associated with a senior/subordinate relationship. This does not need to be the case. I have learned as much from my peers as I have those in a higher position than me. Do not hesitate to reach out to a peer! It may be easier to establish a mutual mentorship relationship between peers than with a superior.

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Last week’s post covered the roles of a mentor. There are also responsibilities relegated to the mentee as well. A few include:

  • Continuous Learner: take advantage of this opportunity to learn. Be inquisitive; ask questions! But also look for ways to give back to your mento It’s not impossible to think that a mentor may also learn from the mentee. Learning can be a mutual experience and the mentor/mentee relationship can and should be symbiotic.
  • Be Timely: very few mentors have time for excessive hand-holding. Most are dealing with their own high stress jobs and long hours. A mentee that is positive and uses their precious time wisely working to solve problems (rather than complain about work) can be a bright spot in the day. Do your research before reaching out to your mentor. Do not waste their time with something that could have been easily googled.
  • Be Open: mentees have a lot more than just career advice to gain in a mentorship relationship. Mentors can also speak about education, motivation, and work-life balance. Find out from your mentor what he/she sees as the key points to long-term success and happiness.
  • Be Serious: demonstrate that you are eager for counsel by implementing the advice your mentor gave, showing the result, and then going back for more. So, if your mentor suggests you get on project X, get yourself on that project, and do a good job. Then report back to your mentor that you are grateful for the advice because you were able to learn a lot. Your mentor will be much more willing to give you their time and energy after you have proven yourself to be a quick and eager study.
  • Synergizer: a benefit of mentorship, or really any great conversation, with a trusted colleague is that new ideas are forged. Capture those ideas and capitalize on them!
  • Initiator/Relationship Driver: in the military, many times you are officially assigned a mentor, however, this is typically not the case in a corporate work environment. If you feel like you need help, it is your responsibility to reach out and get assistance! Identify the skills, knowledge, and goals that you are seeking to achieve and discuss with your mentor. Walking up and asking a stranger to be your mentor will rarely work. However, approaching a stranger will a pointed, well thought out question can yield results. Initiate with a superior in your office or someone familiar in the community or even a peer.

As mentioned earlier, mentorship is typically more reciprocal than it may appear. The mentee may receive a more direct type of assistance but the mentor benefits as well. There is a stronger sense of purpose, a sense of pride, and useful information exchanged. When mentorship is done correctly, everybody flourishes.

The Importance of Mentoring: The Many Roles of the Mentor (Part II)

Previously discussed was the importance of mentoring, as well as how mentoring and leadership are intertwined. This post will cover the many roles of the mentor. To view the entire series:

I have been fortunate to be on the receiving end of more than one great mentor and have served as a formal and informal mentor to others. The long-term impact of mentoring can be career changing, perhaps even life changing.

My mentors never “coached” me, but instead challenged me, encouraged me, and acted as a source of wisdom when I needed it most. I carry their impact through my work today. When I’m faced with difficult questions or decisions, I think back on the lessons learned through the years and then take action.

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There are several roles and/or responsibilities that a mentor can assume. The role(s) the mentor will assume depends on the needs of the mentee and the type of relationship established. These roles can be combined and potentially evolve as the association between mentor and mentee develops. Your mentor may not assume all of these roles. Some roles include:

  • Teacher – the mentor teaches skills and knowledge required to perform a job successfully.
  • Guide – the mentor helps the mentee to understand how to navigate and understand the inner workings of an organization. Sometimes this may include passing on information about any unwritten expectations or rules for success.
  • Counselor – this definitely requires establishment of trust in the mentoring relationship. The mentor listens to work situations and provides guidance to help the mentee find his/her own solutions and improve his/her own problem solving skills.
  • Motivator – a mentor shows support and encouragement to help a mentee through the tough times and keeps the mentee focused on developing job skills to improve performance, self-respect, and an improved sense of self-worth.
  • Advisor – a mentor helps the mentee to develop professional interests and set realistic career goals. Goals should be specific, have a time frame, and be results oriented, relevant, and reachable.
  • Referral Agent – once a career plan is developed, the mentor assists the mentee in approaching others who can provide training, information, and assistance. The mentor also points the mentee to relevant career-enhancing schools, courses, books, reading, professional organizations, and self-improvement activities.
  • Role Model – the mentor is a living example for the mentee to emulate. A mentor must lead and teach by example. To me, this is the most important role.
  • Door Opener – the mentor opens doors of opportunity by helping establish a network of professional contacts both within and outside an organization. The mentor also helps the mentee understand the importance of networking with seniors, peers, and juniors to exchange information, ideas, and concerns.

A mentor can be a difference maker in your life and career. It’s important to approach the relationship with an open mind and to set proper expectations.

The next post will cover the roles of a mentee.

The Importance of Mentorship: Interlacing Leadership and Mentoring (Part I)

Today’s young employees are tomorrow’s future leaders. As a leader, there is an obligation to help the future by training and mentoring tomorrow’s leader.

The benefits of mentorship are well known: those less experienced receive feedback, insight, and support from someone more experienced. The mentor acts as a guide who can offer impartial support and advice.

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Leadership and mentoring go hand-in-hand. Effective leadership guides and provides an example for those subordinate. Additionally, a leader should be spending one-on-one time with subordinates to guide to the next level in their career…beyond just semi-yearly performance reviews.

Leadership skills develop over time; it is not something that people are born with. Leadership is action, not a billet or position. An effective leader knows his or her strengths and weaknesses, and is capable of maximizing all of them. A leader knows how to manage conflict and understands the political culture and how to navigate it for best results. Leaders and mentors share many of the same qualities; all the aforementioned qualities also apply to a mentor.

Mentoring is the link between a junior and someone more experienced for the purpose of career development and personal growth. This is accomplished through sharing knowledge and insights learned over the years. Mentoring is more personal and is relationship-based; the mentor shares his or her own experiences, insight, and knowledge with the mentee. Effective mentorship isn’t about focusing on a specific skill and how to improve it —it’s about the mentee’s overall growth.

Too often there is a difference between someone who holds a leadership position and that of an effective leader. Leadership is a topic about which I deeply care. My time in the military allowed me to experience different styles of leadership as I developed my own skills and styles. In my opinion, leadership is not about the leader, but rather it is about those being led. The success of a leader is reflected in the morale and welfare of the subordinates: whether or not those you lead are better off as a result of your leadership. If you assume a leadership role, you automatically inherit the responsibility for the care, well-being, career growth and supervision of those in your charge. This is not a burden of leadership– this is your privilege. To be blunt, if you cannot or will not become a good mentor then you do not have any business being a leader or in a leadership position.

With that being said, the onus of mentorship is just as much on the mentee as it is the mentor. The mentee can initiate the beginning of a mentorship relationship! Sometimes, you just have to reach out to someone and say something similar to:

  • “I listened to your presentation during the VMUG and I think that you are a good public speaker. I’d like to do that one day, what do I need to do to get there?”
  • “I want to transition my career into IT security, can you give me some advice?”

Though, truthfully, the strongest mentorship relationships spring out of a real and typically earned connection between a leader and a subordinate.

This is the first post of a series that I will be posting regarding mentorship. Be prepared! I’ll be posting once a week for four weeks (along with some regularly scheduled technical content) until the blog series is finished.