Some recent experiences mentoring has provided the motivation for this piece. It is not intended to be right or wrong, but just my personal opinion and experience and I hope it is read that way. I have put this together to share what I think are the critical things that make a mentoring relationship work for both the mentor and mentee. So with that out of the way, I invite you to read on...
Some people who know me may not realise that for many years I ran a school on the side (Canterbury Lernejo) which sadly I had to close last year. The school approached education from a different perspective in that we hired inspirational teachers and empowered them to teach and pass on their passion for learning, rather constraining them with processes and rules that we often hear about. This approach was about not giving the students answers, but coaching their curiosity and helping them to understand how to come to their own decisions/answers. So, what has this got to do with mentoring?
I have been mentoring for many years, both as mentor, mentee as well as help to build programs from the ground up. For me mentoring has always been about something similar. I image my older self having a conversation with my younger self, and during that dialog me being able to explore and ask questions that would ultimately help me make and own decisions. In the past few months I have been mentoring in several different programs and I have had a few of the relationships not work out. The reasons are the same reasons I have seen over the years, so I wanted to share what I think make mentoring relationships work and what you need to know to make sure you (if you are considering it) know what to look out for.
One of the red flags that I look for during the early sessions with a new mentee is whether they are genuinely looking for a mentoring relationship or whether they are just looking for someone who might be able to give them the answers they are looking for. It is surprising that many people enter into these programs thinking they will get access to experienced people who they can then discuss their problems with and get answers. That is not mentoring, that is consulting.
Mentoring is about having a conversation, where the mentor will ask open questions and the style will be conversational. It is intended to provide a safe space and for the mentee to uncover new insights and thoughts as a result of the conversation. I cannot stress how important this is - this is about building the confidence and mental muscles around this at an individual level, and helping them with techniques so they can keep doing that when the mentor is not about.
One of the important things you need to go into a mentoring relationship with is a clear understanding of some key way you are going to measure progress. Mentoring works best when you have some clear challenges you have identified you need help with but perhaps you existing network or experience leaves you wanting to understand alternative paths and options. This might be professional but also extends to personal too.
It is important to set this out at the beginning. Define the clear objective and then set some goals or measures so you can see if you are making progress. This might sound obvious, but often it is forgotten so I always like to emphasise this during my first session with a mentee. It is during this stage you may decide that you are not the right person to help with the objective.
As long as you are making progress, against your objectives, then you are probably getting something out of this relationship. As mentee you need to own this, do not rely on the mentor, however the mentors role is to make sure that they sense check progress themselves - if this is not done, you can end up in a situation where you go round in circles.
I have been in many situations where the relationship stops working or progress stalls - with no reason or fault on anyone. A good mentor will detect this and ask questions to understand why this is happening and if needed pause or stop the mentoring. Do not be afraid of this, this is not a bad reflection on either the mentor or mentee - it has to be working for both parties, and so being able to stop is an important part of the relationship.
Think of these three simple things before you start and begin your mentoring will help you get the most of your experience.
Just like the teachers at my school, mentoring is about enabling people to have the ability to learn new skills and confidence so that they can tackle problems ahead. When done correctly, mentoring is an amazing thing, and allows you to grow professionally as well as personally. I know that over the years when I have been a mentor or a mentee, I have had the mindset of owning the outcomes and understanding that this is about me improving myself not me having to depend on someone else.
I encourage you all to make the most of your mentoring opportunities, and who knows, maybe we may see each other on the mentoring road.