You don’t have to be an aspiring young recruit to benefit from a mentor – we can all benefit from having someone to bounce ideas around, make suggestions, give us feedback, and challenge us when we lose our way. It’s wonderful when we need to improve personal or business performance, and it could even been a peer mentor. Research suggests that the majority of successful people, who have moved into the upper levels of management and administration have, at some stage in their careers, had a mentor.
What is a mentor?
The simplest definition for a mentor is a person who is both there for you, and is a coach. Maybe your manager or a board member is naturally your mentor, but usually there is something special about a mentor, and they need to be sought out.
Maybe it is someone with particular skills you admire. Or someone who has achieved what you aspire to do. Or a person with razor sharp thinking and feedback who you trust. It may be a friend who knows you outside of work.
Some people call a mentor the “tribal elder” of an organisation. It may be that the person is older and is more experienced in the organisation, and they take a special interest in your career and meet with you regularly, to look more at your career development rather than your day-to-day tasks.
The main functions of a traditional mentor
Mentors need to be able to listen and challenge, give feedback, coach and teach, represent you positively to others, and help you with learning strategies. They will be able to give advice based on their experience, but be open and unbiased.
A good mentor will be supportive – acting as a sort of counsellor – on a variety of issues, ranging from workplace problems, to ethical dilemmas. Maybe they will also be available for counselling on more personal issues. They can often help you with networking and represent you to management if they are in a senior position.
Tips for finding a mentor
In order to find a suitable mentor people must become more proactive rather than just waiting for someone to find them, women especially. They need to understand that they need a mentor and/or could benefit from having a mentor, and look through the organisation to find an appropriate person. It may be that the person is someone on the board of directors, or an upper level manager. They need to proactively find out who the right person may be.
There are a number of ways to go about finding a suitable mentor. Think about the people in the organisation that you admire and respect. If the person does not feel “special” to you, then you will not be unlikely to gain anything from them. You have to be able to find the motivation to learn from the person.
Paired mentors can often be a very good solution, where two people on roughly the same level in the organisation have a lot to offer each other and would benefit from being paired together.
A mentor does not necessarily have to be someone within the organisation. Having regular communication and useful conversations with someone outside, about work and problems you may face in particular situations can often mean that this person becomes something of a mentor for you.
Problems with mentoring – and some failures
Some male/female mentoring programs have been unsuccessful due to a sexual interest being the main motivating factor in developing the relationship.
Many organisations have set up formal mentoring schemes and failed due to
time factors, where the programs have not been planned out effectively. A mentoring program should begin with a contracting situation, where the people involved sit down together and agree to a year’s plan. Set goals, tasks and timeframes.
The supervisor may feel undermined by a mentoring program, where the protégé goes to their mentor for advice and help rather than to them. It is important in the mentoring relationship that the role of the supervisor is still very clear. The supervisor is ultimately responsible for setting goals and time lines, and they still have primary responsibility for the protégé’s career planning and development. The mentor and the supervisor have to offer different things.
There can be cases where a mentoring program encounters situations that may be problematic in the long run. Examples are:
- The mentor begins to unfairly manipulate their protégé by getting them to do extra tasks and work – they see the person as an extra pair of hands to be used. In order to overcome this, there must be a contracting situation up-front and the protégé must be proactive in establishing how the relationship is going to work.
- The protégé needs to be able to give feedback to their mentor on how they feel about the situation, as well as ask for detailed and high quality feedback in return. They must feel comfortable and assertive to get what they want out of the relationship.
- Jealousy in a person’s peer group due to the fact that the protégé appears to be getting more opportunities, and is growing and learning. The protégé needs to be up-front, and encourage others to find themselves mentors.
- A protégé may feel insecure around their mentor due to how successful they see them as being, and feeling like they have to be as good as them. Tell the mentor and get their feedback.
What if the protégé finds that the mentor does not have this skill? They probably need to change their understanding of the relationship, or the protégé needs to find someone else as mentor.
Whether you find a short term mentor or long-term mentor, a high level person or a peer, inside or outside the organisation – it’s a very worthwhile exercise that can lead to many new opportunities, learning and self development.
By Eve Ash, psychologist and founder, Seven Dimensions, co-producer with Peter Quarry of the best selling DVD – Mentoring (TAKE AWAY TRAINING SERIES) and co author of Rewrite Your Life! (Penguin) www.7dimensions.com.au
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