Want To Grow? Get A Mentor!

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?

Originally posted at LinkedIn.

For more read my blog about management, leadership, communication, coaching, software development and career TheGeekyLeader or follow me on Twitter: @GeekyLeader

The real leadership shows when you are not the boss

Do you have a team of people working for you? Do you manage them? Do you provide direction, guidance? Do you get things done by working through them? Then you are a great manager, excellent boss and possibly also a leader. Now, imagine a company without fancy titles. Would you be still seen as a leader by your team? Sadly in many situations managers rely too much on their titles and thus don’t do what needs to be done to be seen and accepted as leaders. The real leadership shows when you are asked to get something done by utilizing a team that you have no direct reporting line to and when there is no obvious incentive for this team to work with you.

Working for you or working with you?

How do you prepare for such a situation? The best way is to build a leadership style that is based on a premise that people don’t work for you but they work with you. This requires a specific mindset, for example the one described in my previous post Coaching approach to leading people. You don’t direct people what to do, you just provide guidance, help and opportunities. When you get used to getting things done this way it is rather irrelevant whether the team that works with you reports to you or to someone else.

It is a typical job of a project manager to deliver a project while using a team of people who may not necessarily report to him. When I worked for a big multinational company with half a million employees worldwide I was plugged into the matrix organization. I lead a team of people working on numerous projects but I had no direct responsibility for delivering the project. I was just managing the people. At the same time to make it more interesting I was responsible for couple of projects and initiatives that required me to utilize people who didn’t report to me. The opportunity of being on both sides of the fence helped me to develop couple of habits that I use since.

It is your team

I believe you need to have a very simple mindset when working with others. You must consider them as part of your team. It doesn’t matter whether they report to you or someone else, it doesn’t matter that they might be your peers or even superiors. You should always see them as someone who deserves your attention and that you are here to help them succeed. And as a by-product the things gets done and you achieve your goal.

Show them vision

When marshaling your resources you need to provide a vision, a goal, a target. Something that needs to be achieved and that people in your virtual team should march towards. You may also want to show them what is in it for them. How they may grow and achieve their personal goals when working with you on a particular initiative.

Fight for them

It is your team! And that means that you fight for them. You are the spokesperson, the guardian and the person who needs to shield them from anything that may derail their effort. In fact, you may even need to step up and have a discussion with their boss if you feel they are not getting what they should from him.

Give them credit

Forget about sharing credit. Sharing credit doesn’t really work as sharing by definition means that you still keep part of it and that almost always translates to you being seen as the one who did the job. Don’t share, just give all the credit to the team! You are not particularly important, you are just the coordinator, the enabler, it is the team that did the work and they deserve the credit. When they don’t report to you make sure their managers know about the great job they did. And don’t stop there, remember, even if they don’t report to you they are your team! So you are responsible to ensuring they get the recognition they deserve.

Mentor them

Yes, they may work with you only for a short period of time but it doesn’t mean you should treat them as expendable resources. Again, they are your team and you are responsible for giving them opportunity to learn and to grow. You must provide feedback and mentorship. Why? Well, as the saying goes you always meet twice. If you provide real leadership and mentoring, if you help them to achieve their goals they will see you as a leader and will want to work with you in the future.

Build relationships

And this brings up to building relationships. You want to make sure you create rapport, you have a good working relationship with the team as you may need their help in future projects or initiatives. When you build a deep connection with people and they understand that they matter to you and that you care it is much easier for them to provide the help you will need to get the job done.

These basics should help you to build great teams both the ones reporting to you and virtual ones that span across the organization through numerous departments and seniority levels. And is there a dark side? Well, the worst thing that can happen is that you will find yourself in a position that everyone wants to not only work with you but also for you.

Twitter type summary: “The real leadership shows when you get things done utilizing a team that doesn’t report to you and has no incentive to work with you.”

What are your tips and tricks on how to get a job done when you need resources across the organization that don’t report to you?