Mentoring exists at many levels. It happens inside and outside organizations.
It’s done on a formal and often very informal basis. Regardless of how and when it happens, mentoring is valuable.
Michael Weiss, innovation champion at Unum, says that mentoring is valuable because it’s a symbiotic relationship.
“In the best cases, both the mentor and mentee gain something. The mentee can learn from another’s experiences and leverage the mentor as a ‘safe place’ to explore situations and options with someone who, ideally, has no vested interest in the outcome, and thus can be objective and candid. I have mentored various people – students, young professionals, peers – on a variety of topics. In each case, the mentee was able to develop themselves by hearing my experiences, stories, and opinions. Also, their questions often made me consider things in new ways or take things in account that I hadn’t before.”
While mentoring is very flexible to the needs of the individuals involved in the mentoring relationship, there are some common elements found in every effective mentoring relationship.
Even though it might appear that mentoring is about the student and the master, it’s not really true. Yes, in a mentoring relationship one person is teaching the other one. But the real reason mentoring relationships are so beneficial is because both individuals are equal and they share a common belief system. Here are five qualities that both mentors and mentees share:
- Networking. Mentoring starts with a connection. It might be a common friend or colleague. Maybe it’s a shared interest in a certain topic. Or possibly the same profession or employer. Whatever the reason, it’s the initial bond that brings both individuals together and creates the basis for the relationship.
- Trust. Often in a mentoring relationship, one or both individuals might share mistakes or regrets. So, once the initial connection is made, the key to successful relationship building is creating trust. A mentoring relationship is only as good as the trust between the mentor and mentee. Both individuals are committed to sharing knowledge and keeping confidences.
- Feedback. In addition to disclosing their own stories, mentors and mentees will share feedback. It might be about the relationship or a specific piece of advice. Feedback not only helps support individual goals but it can strengthen trust in the mentoring relationship. That being said, both the mentor and mentee need to know how to give and receive good feedback.
- Learning. Mentoring is about learning. And in good mentoring relationships both individuals are learning something. It’s possible they aren’t learning the same things. That’s fine. Today’s mentoring relationships aren’t about older workers mentoring younger workers. Mentors can be found at any age because they understand the importance of lifelong learning.
- Sharing. Speaking of learning, mentoring is also about sharing knowledge. There’s a saying that “One of the best ways to learn is by teaching.” Mentors and mentees not only learn from each other, but learn through the mentoring process itself. Self-awareness is a powerful tool and mentoring can be a great way to become more self-aware.
Make the Most of Your Mentoring Relationships
Mentors and mentees bring several common qualities to their relationship that benefit both parties. It’s up to them to make sure the mentoring relationship starts off on the right path. Weiss recommends establishing clear expectations upfront.
“First, the mentee must be clear on what they want to gain from the mentoring relationship. Do they want to learn a particular skill? Develop in a certain area? Have a sounding board to get guidance and explore options on situations that arise in their professional life? Once they have that, the next thing required is to identify a mentor who exemplifies the qualities the mentor wants around those goals (i.e. someone who is demonstrably good or knowledgeable in the area the mentee wants to develop).”
Mentoring relationships are built on a foundation of honesty and candor. Frank and open communication between mentor and mentee will ensure clarity and agreement on the goals, approach, and duration of the mentoring relationship. The good news is that both parties want the same thing: a positive learning experience.