It’s easier to climb the corporate ladder when you’re following in the footsteps of someone who has climbed the rungs before you. This is the principle of workplace mentoring, a special type of coaching relationship typically involving a more senior professional and a less-experienced protégé. A mentor is truly a trusted friend who can help the mentee get a better grasp on the unspoken rules of the game, and guide them toward reaching specific career goals.
The biggest difference between simply networking and mentoring is that the latter is a long-term commitment. It is an ongoing, planned partnership. Whether formal or informal, the foundation for mentoring is a complementary and mutually beneficial relationship. The mentee receives guidance and advice that champions their growth both personally and professionally. The mentor gains the opportunity to strengthen their leadership skills.
Because of these benefits, employee mentoring programs are becoming increasingly common in the workplace.
There are distinct advantages for the organization that implements such a program. After all, the person being mentored will certainly benefit from learning their job in a more effective way while the mentor is able to connect with new staff, impart their knowledge (vital to succession planning) and help foster a sense of community. It also alleviates some pressure to recruit and hire employees with the “perfect” skill set, knowing that some skills can be acquired through consistent on-the-job mentoring.
Even if your workplace does not have a mentoring program, do not let that deter you from finding someone willing to help enhance and advance your career.
When looking for a mentor, the best place to start is by identifying someone you respect and admire. This can be a colleague, but it could also be someone in your field or a professional association. Other considerations:
— Choose a mentor whose goals and values are similar to your own. It should be someone you look up to as a role model and can communicate easily with.
— This person should have a similar career trajectory as you, or is on a path that you wish to follow.
— A mentor should have a positive and encouraging attitude, good listening skills, the ability to provide constructive feedback, and be comfortable with discussing a wide range of issues. A good sense of humour is helpful, too.
— Do not ask your direct supervisor to be your mentor. Instead, choose someone with whom you can talk freely about your career challenges and workplace issues.
— Ensure that your mentor has sufficient time to commit to a mentoring relationship by discussing your mutual expectations in advance.
— Take the initial step in approaching a potential mentor, as the mentee is the one who benefits most from this connection. Try a couple of informal meetings or lunches to see if you’re genuinely a good fit and can learn from this individual.
— Be willing to open up and be honest about yourself to your mentor, as they are most likely to invest time and energy in those with whom they identify and can see a bit of their younger self.
— Be the kind of mentee you’d want to mentor if the roles were reversed. This means being respectful of your mentor’s valuable time, appreciative for their guidance (by expressing gratitude and by following through on the advice you seek), and being accountable for making your own decisions.
— Evaluate how well the mentoring relationship is working from time to time. Your mentor should listen to and encourage your goals, provide honest feedback, help you develop better self-awareness, challenge you to grow and cheer your victories.
If you’ve received the gift of good mentoring, the best thing you can do is to pass it on by investing in a mentee seeking out your help. Mentoring is not only for those in senior positions, nor do you need to know everything in your realm of expertise to become a mentor. In fact, the best mentors are often those who’ve earned their stripes thanks in part to the assistance of someone who helped them along the way.
— With reporting by Barbara Chabai
Human Resource Management Association of Manitoba 2009 Program Guide
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 19, 2011 H1