Do you want to find a mentor? Do you want to be a mentor? As Pamela Ryckman says, the author of Stiletto Network: Inside the Women’s Power Circles That Are Changing the Face of Business., “Mentoring—or at minimum connecting with a variety of people in all industries and age groups—has never been more important.”
Having a successful experience as a mentor or as a mentee is dependent on the choices you make before and during the relationship. You can be better prepared to use mentoring if you understand what each side is expecting and what choices have to be made. If you already use mentoring, consider how you made your choices. There are ways to improve the experience for both of you.
Choices to Make as a Mentee
If you are looking for a mentor, your first choice is to make sure that’s what you really want or need. There are other options to help you succeed in business — a consultant, a counselor, a professional specialist (lawyer, accountant, etc), or just a friend. You may need a whole group of people to be your sounding board or board of advisors or directors. Some of these are paid and some are unpaid. So are mentors. Don’t choose based on money alone.
Your next choice involves process. Mentoring is a special kind of networking and it involves a special kind of relationship between the people involved. In general terms, networking is about “giving” and “taking” and a good mentor expects to both give and receive from their mentees. Mentors who are paid should have a system or process they follow that works. That’s part of what you’re paying for. Unpaid mentors may just be good listeners, good interviewers and commentators and good connectors with the expectation that you will return the favor. Networking is also all about goals and sharing those goals with the people in your network. A mentor can’t help you if you can’t or aren’t willing to focus on a goal. They can help you arrive at the right goal but it’s not worth anyone’s time and effort if you’re not ready to commit. As a mentee, you have to “buy in” to the mentor’s process. Choose how you want to be mentored so you are not unpleasantly surprised.
Your third choice goes beyond finding a mentor with the right expertise and time to work with you. Lois Zachary, author of The Mentee’s Guide: Making Mentoring Work for You, recommends starting with a list of what you want in a mentor. Caela Farren, Ph.D. takes this even further because the world is too complex to only have one mentor. She suggests you have a mentor “board of directors” that has expertise in your industry, profession or trade, career, balancing work with life, organization, technology, process and operations, and include a customer.
Both of these authors have good ideas but there’s something missing. Mentoring is a relationship whether you pay for it or not. Make sure you choose a mentor who fits with your attitudes, interests, opinions, value and lifestyle to avoid spending your time fighting and arguing. If you can’t relate to the mentor, chances are they can’t relate to you. They can challenge you but you’ll never really listen or follow the advice of someone that you don’t like or trust.
Choices to Make as a Mentor
Your first choice is to make sure you have “the right stuff” to be a mentor. Certainly you have to have the expertise, time, and commitment. You have to be willing to keep secret what you hear but to speak to others and intervene if you perceive a health or safety issue. You also need to have certain personal qualities. Authoritarians who must be obeyed need not apply to be mentors. I wrote about this is in my post, “Are You Mentor Material?”, for allbusiness.com but here are some of the most important qualities for success. Good mentors are:
- Learners as well as teachers
- Idealistic, yet practical
- Up-to-date but with a strong sense of history
- Leaders, advocates, and activists
- Organized and goal oriented
Your second choice has to do with your current and future plans. Make sure that if you mentor you can still fulfill your other obligations with minimum risk. Helping others and harming yourself never works. Conduct a SWOT analysis on yourself — your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities that would come from mentoring and those you would have to give up, and any threats to your career, reputation, or relationships. Mentoring is a commitment and you have to weigh the pros and cons before you accept a mentee.
Your third choice is about choosing the right person to mentor. Just as they need to find a personality fit, so do you. Whether you are a volunteer business mentor through programs like the Business Success Center’s First Looks Forum Mentoring Program or MicroMentor or do it for a living as I do, you want the experience to be positive. Make your own list of what you want from your mentee. First Looks mentors know this because they complete an application form that spells this out. I use this information to choose them for the mentees in the current program.
Choices for Both Mentors and Mentees
Probably the most important choice both mentors and mentees make is how to proceed, make progress, and accomplish goals. I recommend that each one have a job description (it’s better if the mentor prepares these) and a termination and exit strategy that’s written out and agreed to. In our case, we use a letter of agreement. It gives both sides a clear understanding of how we work and what is required of each of us.
Use mentoring correctly and the results can be almost amazing. Don’t go at it unprepared and hoping for the best. Make it work by making the right choices.
Here’s to your mentoring success!
Use mentoring effectively by making the right choices and you both will have an experience you can be proud of — and that’s important, too.