The Challenge of Mentoring: What makes a mentor

“The greatest good you can do for another is not just to share your riches but to reveal to him his own.” – Benjamin Disraeli

A member of my Women’s Network has asked me for mentoring time. I have never mentored anyone before (Toastmaster’s mentoring is very targeted and would be considered more of a coaching relationship in the real world). I have never officially had a mentor until about a year ago. Actually, I have never even pictured myself in this role.

Although I am a huge proponent of leading by example, I did not think that anyone actually sees me as a mentor material, since I am an individual contributor and do not have direct reports. On the other hand, it is understandable due to the fact that now I have more exposure and visibility by being a member of the network committee. Lately, I have been more vocal about my involvement and take every opportunity to promote our Employee Resource Group (ERG). In addition, I have been showing up at all kinds of other campus events, not just network-related.

The request slightly shocked, sending me into a panic mode. I did not feel prepared to take on this challenge. In situations that hold too many unknowns I do research to gain confidence and to establish a solid foundation for decision making.

1. Feedback. I asked my own mentor and my fellow Women’s Network committee members for feedback on my potential to be a mentor. It was overwhelmingly positive. In addition, this type of experience is encouraged for all members of the committee.

2. Online resources. I have read several articles online about the concept of mentorship, the dynamics, and maintenance of the relationship. LinkedIn posts and many blog entries are packed with valuable insights. I use The Muse as a resource quite a bit. I also have access to resources provided by my employer such as a recently launched Mentoring Program.

3. Classes. I took a LearnSmart course online called “Mentoring that Matters”. I like to take online classes on everything. I feel like they bring structure to all kinds of nebulous concepts. This class was no exception. I would definitely recommend it even to those, who do have mentoring experience. This course not only describes the benefits of the relationship to both parties, responsibilities of both parties, and the best dynamic of the relationship, it also explores the psychology and the science behind the concept. You will find numerous tips to help you build and sustain the relationship such as suggestions for ice breakers to get to know one another better, questions for discovering your values, exercises in building trust, and many others. This course will be valuable to all, even if you do not have a mentor and simply want to explore your passions and career path on your own. Although the course defines some very rigid parameters around what a mentoring relationship should look like, I would definitely recommend it not only due to the insightful content, but also due to the user-friendly and interactive delivery format.

In my opinion, each pair ultimately has to develop the relationship into what works best for them. The dynamics, the arrangements, the frequency of meetings, the extent of the relationship, the metrics for measuring progress – all will be customized and personalized based on the needs of parties involved. For example, the course ascertains that the most appropriate arrangement is for the mentor and mentee be of same sex with a significant age gap, because the relationship often extends beyond the workplace. However, I personally am not interested in breaking the boundaries of the professional, because my career is the area where I need his perspective, understanding, and guidance the greatest.

Finally, the most important lesson is that we can learn from our peers just as much as we can learn from top execs. To capitalize on all inherent benefits of our networks we should leverage all of our sources of knowledge and experience. Learning from someone else’s mistakes is much less detrimental than making your own.

Are you a mentor or a mentee? What resources have you found the most helpful? What lessons have you learned?

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