Whether you’re currently a leader or aspiring to leadership, mentoring is a valuable technique you’ll want to add to your repertoire.
If you are a leader, you’ll benefit from offering mentorship to capable young people you’d like to see enjoy greater success. If you are an aspiring leader, you’ll benefit from finding a mentor to help you improve your capabilities and springboard your career to new heights.
Role of a Mentor
The word “Mentor” derives from a fictional character of that name in the epic poem “Odyssey” written by Homer sometime around 700 BC. The character was both trustworthy and wise, and aided dramatically in the upbringing of Odysseus’ young son, Telemachus.
Today, we apply the title “Mentor” to any experienced, relatively successful person who willingly befriends, coaches, offers suggestions and encouragement, sometimes trains, and often contributes to the career advancement of a less experienced person.
When done properly, mentoring benefits both parties to this relationship.
Some Benefits of Mentoring
Mentoring offers a variety of personal and professional rewards for both parties.
The mentor not only enjoys the process, but frequently gains a helpful ally and often a team member who is loyal, as well as skilled and talented. In addition, the youth and fresh perspective of the “mentee” often helps the mentor stay in tune with changing times and technologies, and challenges him or her to keep growing should the mentor’s internal drive start slowing down.
The mentee is the recipient of highly focused, highly specific information, advice, and training – as well as modeled behavior – from someone who has acquired and made good use of extensive first-hand experience and knowledge in both personal and professional arenas of importance.
Some Obligations of Mentoring
Because mentoring involves lowering some of the barriers that usually exist between colleagues and even friends, there are some important obligations that are part and parcel of mentoring relationships. These include:
- A Time Commitment. Once you enter into a mentoring relationship, you cannot easily break engagements, ignore requests, or fail to deliver on what you promise the other person.
- An Honesty Commitment. Mentor and mentee should not play games with each other. Lying, double-dealing, and manipulation are strictly out of bounds.
Entering into a Mentoring Relationship
If you are lucky, you may find a mentoring relationship arising naturally and informally between you and another person. Occasionally, you can become involved in one almost before you realize it. Most of the time, however, mentorships are forged when one party makes a more-or-less formal request to begin this kind of relationship.
Before you make such an important request, however, it’s important to consider some of the central aspects of successful mentorships:
- Do you like the other person enough to want to invest in this kind of relationship?
- Is mentorship the best way for you to relate to and benefit from working with the other person?
- Can you afford the time you will need to devote to this mentorship?
- Can you be helpful to this other person?
- Will this mentorship contribute toward realizing your career goals?
- What limits, if any, do you want to put on this mentoring relationship?
Some Practical Considerations
Because a mentoring relationship involves powerful expectations and obligations, you should think through some practical considerations before you commit to one.
For example, how much time will you be able to devote to this relationship, without compromising any of the other important aspects of your work and your life?
Also, how often will you want to – or be able to – meet with the other person? How practical is it for you two to meet face-to-face? If practicality is low, what tactics and technologies can you employ that will effectively support the mentoring relationship.
Although no one can say for certain how long a mentoring relationship can or should last, you ought to give some thought to the future. Will you want to continue for just a short time? Or would you like the relationship – assuming it’s working for both you – to last for the foreseeable future?
You should also consider possible exit strategies: How will you know when the mentoring relationship has run its course? How will you be able to extract yourself without hurting the other’s feelings or unwinding any of the benefits you or the other person has received?
Don’t forget to consider issues of confidentiality, too. How much can you reasonably, emotionally, or legally share with the other person about your work and your life? How much are you willing to learn about theirs? Where will you draw the necessary boundaries, and how will you signal to the other person when you approach these limits?