September 7, 2022
Terri O'Brien

Mentoring: a learning tool for success

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In my July blog, I wrote about the many benefits of shifting from an inward to an outward mindset. At Équité Association, we are committed to investing in each other’s success whether it be our colleagues, our members, or our partners. We believe in exploring possibilities together as we continue to grow as an organization. In order to do so, we need to stay curious and consistently seek out new opportunities to learn – because when we learn, we grow.

One of the best ways to become and to remain a lifelong learner is through mentorship. Mentorship is a mutually beneficial professional relationship in which an experienced individual (the mentor) imparts knowledge, expertise and wisdom to a less experienced person (the mentee) while simultaneously honing his or her mentoring skills. Mentoring is widely recognized as a key strategy for career development and progression and I have been fortunate enough to sit on both sides of the mentoring relationship over the course of my career.

Mentoring has long been acknowledged as a powerful tool to accelerateour self-development, career progression, and overall confidence, which makesit surprising to hear that, while 76% of people polled think that mentorship isimportant, only 37% are engaged in a mentoring relationship[1]In thinking about some of my experiences with mentorship, I have put together someof my thoughts on what it takes to succeed in the mentoring process.

1. Mentorship Does Not Need to be Formal

Entering a formal mentorship can be daunting for some. While more traditional mentor/mentee relationships are formal, many are developing informally. Some start conversations over a coffee, others through a mutual connection, and some can meet at an event that they both are attending. While building these relationships, some find themselves as natural advice givers and others advice seekers.

2. Be Committed and Come Prepared

Mentoring takes time and energy from both participants. Each should be dedicated to playing their part and helping to build a strong, mutual relationship. Be prepared, whatever that means for you. Personally, I like to prepare both my questions and my perspective on key topics before every meeting. I write down questions and have resources on hand that I think might be relevant to our conversation. Others enjoy a less structured, more organic approach – starting with a general topic and sparking questions as the conversation progresses.

As a mentor, it is important to come to each meeting armed with some ideas and perspective you think might be relevant to your mentee. Think about what you have experienced and seen over the course of your career and how to make that relevant to the mentee. While mentors provide support, encouragement and guidance for career development, as a mentee, it is your responsibility to take action. Being a mentee is not a passive role. When you have a mentor, it is your job to define your own goals, cultivate the relationship, and seek out advice. You will get out of the relationship as much as you put into it.

As a mentee, I was committed to bringing a complex problem or situation to my mentor for discussion and unpacking. A great mentor will be committed to her mentee, and likewise the mentee will be committed to her mentor. Because of this, both parties will soon get to know the other’s strengths and opportunities, which will encourage your mentor to push you in a direction that works best for you.

3. Compatibility is Key

Since a mentor is a person you will be working with closely, compatibility is crucial to success. However, compatibility is not the same as similarity. Similarity refers to likeness or closeness in appearance or some other attribute. On the other hand, compatibility is the experience in which two or more things are able to exist or perform together in combination without problems or conflict.

When searching for a mentor, you should look for someone with whom you are compatible, but not similar; someone who offers a fresh perspective different from your own. If you select someone too similar to you, you will end up drawing the same conclusions and staying within your comfort zone. For both the mentor and the mentee, the mentoring process can expose new ideas, ways of thinking or approaches to problem solving. This can have long lasting implications and foster innovation.

4. Build Trust and Be Honest

Honesty is the foundation for trust in a relationship, and trust is necessary for a relationship to function and thrive. Mentoring is a relationship and requires many of the same ingredients for success that are present in all relationships.

Before embarking on a mentorship relationship, make sure that both you and your mentor/mentee are aligned on your values and principles. These will form the foundation of the relationship.

Mentorship has the power to transform your career. Working with a mentor allows you to benefit from their wisdom and experience, which provides you with the tools to replicate their success and avoid repeating their mistakes. However, mentorship is a serious commitment that requires hard work and a thoughtful approach in order to reap the many benefits. Be ready. Be willing. It is truly a mutually rewarding experience.