Who is a mentor?
You may not know it, but you are a mentor of some sort. A Mentor is just a person that other persons look up to. A more formal definition of mentoring is the process of the informal transmission of knowledge, social capital, and the psychosocial support perceived by the recipient as relevant to their work career or professional development. Mentorship is a relationship in which a more experienced or more knowledgeable person helps to guide a less experienced or less knowledgeable person. That’s a pretty broad definition of mentoring. Mentors are entrusted with such roles as a guide, confidant, and champion. They have the experience to understand you’re a person’s current developmental situation and assist with useful, reliable and constructive feedback. The person accessing the services of a mentor is a mentee.
People are different and so are the forms of relationships that exist between them. Depending on every possible correlate; gender, age, location, culture, religious or political affiliations, social, educational and economic status, the nature of each mentorship experience must be carefully developed. In this article, we shall discuss types of mentors. Afterwards, we look at the roles and responsibilities of mentors and mentees. Then, we shall explore some tips on how to choose a mentor. Finally, we shall conclude with some insights on how to make the best out of a mentoring relationship.
Types of Mentors
A common worry for many people is, whether it is alright to have more than one mentor. In my opinion, I would say, absolutely. It is a good practice that should be encouraged. One could have a primary mentor and a number of secondary mentors or co-mentors whom you consult for more specialized issues such as academics, career, research, life, co-mentors in a specific field, etc. It should be clear what each mentor’s expertise is so to maximize the learning experience. For instance, if you want a career mentor, find someone who is already working in your field of interest. That way, they can provide helpful mentoring based on their exposure.
A mentoring relationship does not have to be for life. Thus, you may have to switch between mentors and will accumulate quite a number in your lifetime. This is normal as you may outgrow the expertise of a mentor. For instance, when students in the Primary School get promoted to a higher class, they abandon some of their old teachers for newer ones. Think of it this way. When you switch jobs, e.g. from the banking sector to academia so will your mentor except if s/he has experience in both fields. In some cases, former mentees have risen to become mentors to their past mentors.
Roles and Responsibilities of Mentors
- Mentors must make time for their mentees and should grant direct access to themselves despite their busy schedules.
- It’s also their responsibility to help mentees achieve their goals.
- Mentors should be specific about what services they can provide and at what pace.
- Communication between mentors and mentees must always be clear. Mentees should be open about their experiences and needs and it is the responsibility of the mentor to ensure that mentees feel comfortable having these conversations. Listen patiently and make time for mentees to talk about their issues. Mentors should never be dismissive but find ways to provide constructive feedback.
- Mentors should also help mentees develop the essential skills and set appropriate goals. These goals could include thinking about the next step in your career advancement. Building a relationship by working together on a project is a good wat to achieve this.
- Mentors should get to know other aspects of a mentee’s life—their interests, family, and so on. This depends on the mentees’ willingness to disclose this information.
- Mentors also need to share their successes and failures. It helps the mentee to see them as human. Encourage them to do the same.
- Growing your professional networks should be another important role that mentors must play.
- Mentors should avoid dictating choices or controlling a mentees behavior. A good mentor is never afraid of making referrals to other mentors who have better exposure than them. It is also alright to allow mentees to choose a path different from that of the mentor. Mentors should also encourage and respect the choices of their mentees.
- Finally, every mentor needs mentoring too. That way they stay up to date with happenings in their own fields and also improve their mentoring capacity.
Roles and Responsibilities of Mentees
- Mentees must be responsible for setting the terms for the relationship from the beginning.
- Mentees take the lead in setting up meetings with the mentor and asking questions.
- Be teachable! Mentees must be willing to learn new things, accept suggestions and not shy away from criticisms.
- Identify your needs. Mentors do not possess miraculous powers for figuring out what a mentee needs. You might know what you want but not how to achieve it, then the mentor can provide some guidance.
- Be considerate of your mentor’s time. Prepare for each meeting and if possible share your topics and queries before the meeting. Be direct and always keep to time. This implies that if you have to cancel a meeting, you must inform your mentor in advance.
- Honor the commitment. Be hardworking and try to match your mentor’s commitment to your personal development.
- Anticipate support from your mentor, but not miracles. No one creates changes overnight.
- Communicate clearly. Ask questions when you are in doubt about any issues. Document and share the outcomes of conversations to ensure that all parties have similar understanding and conclusions.
How to Choose a Mentor
There is no mentor market and if there were, you wouldn’t find the best mentors there. The simple reason is that great mentors are busy working on their dreams. Mentors don’t go out in search of mentees. That would be a rarity. Mentees must seek out mentors which could be quite daunting.
Finding the right mentor is the most important thing to do when a mentoring relationship is sought. If you find the wrong mentor, the whole relationship collapses, and you would have lost precious time and courage to trust future mentors. Recommendations from current mentors and associates can be helpful. The correct mentor must be interested in your personal and professional development. A person with a track record of success in mentoring others is desirable.
Common Myths to avoid when choosing a mentor
All things in life have associated myths. Myths are beliefs about things that are not true. Myths could be made up for cultural reasons but have no scientific or factual basis. They apply to beliefs about mentors and mentees. Find them below:
- The best mentors are the same sex and race. Mentorship is best where interests are similar and has nothing to do with race or sex.
- The more experienced and senior mentors are best. A committed inexperienced mentor is always better than an important one. A great relationship between mentor and mentee will build a lasting impression over age or experience.
- Mentees learn from mentors. Learning is always a bidirectional, not a unidirectional process. Mentors also learn from mentees.
- Mentors know best. As a matter of fact, they don’t!
- Mentees know best. Same as above!
- I’m too junior to have a mentee. Everyone can have mentees.
- I’m too senior to have a mentor. No one is above learning and all persons must subject themselves to mentorship.
The 4 Cs for choosing the right mentor.
This is a formula I have found to be very helpful. The 4 Cs stand for competent, confident, committed and Click.
A competent mentor is knowledgeable and experienced in their professional field. They have to be respectable persons with a great personality, interpersonal skills, and good judgment.
Confidence is a must in the sense that mentors are not wary of their mentees. They must be willing to share their knowledge, skills, and resources especially contacts. This also entails confidence in mentee’s abilities, sharing credit with them and also putting mentees first.
Good mentors must show commitment by investing time and energy in someone else. Finally, there is no mentoring relationship without a Click. This implies the ability of both parties to get along with each other, understanding each other, and communicating effectively. With these four Cs in place, a mentorship relationship is sure to blossom.
Tips on how to Sustain a Mentorship Relationship
- Make the goals of the mentoring relationship, whether it’s for career development or project-specific clear from the very beginning. You could start by creating a contract which specifies expectations from both parties. Click here to download our template of a Mentorship Agreement Form or Mentorship Contract.
- Mentor/mentee relationship is not for life but be sure to end it on a cordial note. Who knows where you run into each other afterward.
- Take note of each other’s cultural perspective or dynamics. For example, in some cultures, people are more direct and in other cultures, people may find this rude. There may be other issues pertaining to food, place of meetings, greetings (shake hands, kiss or no contact) or even dressing that may be offensive. Best to avoid any sources of discomfort in order to make the best of the relationship.
- Patience on the part of the mentor is a must. Mentees who feel frustrated by their mentors must exercise some self-restraint.
- Have other mentors who are not in your mentor’s circle and seek second opinions when a mentor is making troubles.
Michael is a Project Manager with years of experience in nonprofits and managing startups. He shares what he has learnt over time with like-minded persons. He gives classes to persons who plan a future in the nonprofits sector or as entrepreneurs.