Homer, the Ancient Greek legendary author of two epic poems Iliad and Odyssey tells a story of War of Troy. When Odysseus, one of the Greek kings, set sails for Troy he wanted to ensure his young son Telemachus gets a solid education and his palace is in a good hands. He asked a friend, whose name was Mentor, to get his son education necessary for a long successful life. Thus the first mentorship took place. It was based on sympathetic relationship between two people of different levels of experience without any formal relationship or family and organizational structure.
So how do you define mentoring today? What about: a process of informal transmission of knowledge, psychological support and even social capital that enables the recipient to increase his professional success, being it both the work related tasks as well as personal development. The mentor is someone significantly more experienced in the area of interest and should be a level or two above the mentee. The mentee is someone who wants to receive a professional mentoring in the effort to accelerate his or her growth.
Goals of mentoring
The basis of mentoring is the professional, direct and partnership-based relationship between a mentor and a mentee. At high-level the main aim is to promote the professional and personal development of the mentee. The actual goals may cover wider area of topics:
- Providing advice for further personal development – mentee and mentor meet and reflect together on the mentee‘s experiences. This serves to foster the skills and personality of the mentee on an individual level and enables him to be a better person.
- Providing advice on professional questions and decisions – depending on mentor’s experience they both engage in an exchange of experiences, and the mentor passes on his own experiences and information in effort to enable the mentee to make better decisions.
- Discussing difficult management situations – assuming the mentee is being mentored on management and leadership topics the mentor can act as a sounding board and provide points of view based on his or her vast experience with managing people.
- Help establishing a feedback culture – it is a great way to build a feedback culture through working with emerging leaders and experts.
- Spreading understanding of company strategy and business – especially when the relationship crosses several management levels it helps to provide insights into company strategy that may be otherwise diluted.
- Networking within and outside the organization – when the mentorship spreads across different departments or the mentor is even outside the company it grants the mentee access to a professional circles otherwise inaccessible.
- Increasing self-confidence and professionalism of mentee – as the person works with significantly more senior mentor it gives him or her a new perspective on how to conduct business and by learning new skills will also build a self-confidence.
I listed just some of the most obvious benefits of mentoring. Depending on the needs of the mentee these can be of course expanded.
Requirements for both roles
The mentor is someone who the mentee trusts or can build trust quickly. He doesn’t have any management responsibility for the mentee. It is a purely supporting and advisory role that brings new ideas and perspectives to the relationship. The requirements for this role may vary depending on area of mentoring required, but there are couple of basic ones. The mentor should be:
- A person at least one hierarchical level above the mentee
- In possession of both the technical and social skills to play to role
- With ability to teach and impart knowledge
- With ability to motivate others
- With interest in helping others grow
- With a network of formal and informal contacts within the company
- And of course trustworthy with high ethical standards
The mentee is on the receiving end of this relationship. He is personally responsible for all his decisions and the mentor is there in advisory capacity only. The requirements of the mentee are not as broad as of the mentor but are equally as important. The mentee must be someone who:
- Shows initiative to be able to maintain the contact
- Possesses good social skills to provide mentor with honest feedback
- Is committed to learning and able to put discussed measures into practice
- Has ability to handle criticism
- Has a capacity, both intellectual and emotional to reflect and learn
Advantages for mentor, mentee, and organization
How does the mentor, the mentee, and the organization benefit from the relationship? It always depends on individuals but in broad terms the mentee is getting the most of it. As indicated above the whole point is to enable him or her to perform better today and accelerate growth to the future.
For mentor the benefits can be in a form of enhancing his own skills when explaining topics, sharing knowledge, or providing feedback. He can also get a different perspective on the world from someone who is several levels below them, most likely different age, and even different department, culture or country. It enables mentor to expand his social network within the company, and build a reputation of someone who cares and is willing to help.
And lastly for the company it is all about building a culture of feedback, mutual respect and collaboration. A culture where people are willing to help others and work towards a common goal to enable the future of the company. If done right, the mentoring relationships can help to promote culture of inclusion and diversity.
How to set up a mentoring relationship
How do you find the right mentor and setup the relationship? In any bigger organization you may need help of HR department who should have access to data to help you find the right mentor. If there is no formal process, then just working with your boss or even directly approaching someone senior who you see as a role model in the area you want to improve is definitely an option. In all cases you need to be able to explain what you expect to get from the relationship and also what the mentor can expect in return, as discussed above. When having the right mentor the process is then rather straightforward:
- Upon meeting for the first time, the mentor and the mentee should discuss expectations of both partners in relation to a mentoring relationship. You may want to talk about some of the rules outlined below to make sure both sides are comfortable with them.
- They should agree on the frequency of meetings, duration and high-level topics. I would suggest at first to meet on monthly basis and even though most of the conversations can be done over phone or video conferencing I would strongly encourage to meet at least twice a year face to face to build stronger relationship.
- It is responsibility of the mentee to organize the meetings and bring topics. The mentor can also bring topics that he sees as important for personal development of the mentee but he is not “the owner” of the initiative, even though he is the senior partner in the relationship.
Rules to follow
To have a successful and friction less working relationship both the mentor and the mentee needs to agree on some basic rules they will follow. These rules should cover at least these aspects:
- Confidentiality – everything that is said between the mentor and the mentee remains confidential and shouldn’t be shared or worse used to gain some advantage over the other person.
- Consistency – to build a solid relationship it is important to keep a regular contact and ensure continuous free flowing feedback in both directions.
- Openness – keeping an open mind and understanding the other party’s world view is important to ensure willingness to receive feedback and for growth in general.
- Honesty – again very important for good quality feedback and the ability to have a difficult conversations that enable both sides to learn.
- Maturity – both sides needs to be mature enough to provide and accept feedback even when it is critical; they also need to be reliable to follow the agreed rules.
When you put all this together you can see that building a strong mentoring relationship can help you significantly to accelerate your personal growth and meet your career aspirations.
What is your experience with mentoring? Do you feel it has place in today’s corporate world and what approach to mentoring would you take?
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