Many blogs and magazines write about personal development items, and how time, effort, passion, and a will to succeed are crucial to developing further in life, in your career, or in business. One element, however, which is touched much more rarely is the importance of having a mentor, who can help you on your way. Coaching is indeed already a big word in many companies for the purpose of developing their employees, but effective mentoring goes much further than coaching alone.
According to Dictionary.com, a coach is referred to as a “person who trains an athlete or a team of athletes”. Naturally, coaching is by no means restricted to athletes only, and coaching is widely used in a business or person-environment. However, the definition of a mentor goes beyond that of coaching; a mentor is:
- “a wise and trusted counselor or teacher.”
- “an influential senior sponsor or supporter.”
(source: http://www.dictionary.com, October 22nd, 2012)
As it already becomes from the definition, the tasks and responsibilities of a mentor go beyond that of a coach, in a sense that his main tasks are not only to teach, but also to provide counseling, to be influential, to sponsor initiatives, and to support where possible. Finding a good mentor is difficult, and the tasks go beyond of what most people believe a mentor should do.
Who can be a mentor?
Not everyone can be a mentor, and mentees should pick their mentor carefully. A good mentor needs to display different qualifications and characteristics.
The first characteristic of a good mentor is that he has a great deal of life experience in general. Being successful, whether it is being successful in a career or with your own business, also requires a good knowledge of life in general, and how things generally work. For this reason, a good mentor is simultaneously a senior person, potentially 20 or 30 or 40 years older than the mentee. This age gap is important, as it automatically creates a teacher-pupil relationship.
In addition to general experience, the mentor should have demonstrated experience in the field, in which the mentee wants to develop. It is of no use if the mentor is an experienced finance manager, whereas the mentee wants to grow into conducting pharmaceutical research. The mentor’s experience and the mentee’s goals should match as good as possible, in order for the mentor to be able to execute his tasks (see below). Furthermore, the mentor should be recognized in his area of expertise.
Apart from experience, the mentor should possess a large professional and social network. Such networks are usually mandatory for any form of personal development, and one of the preferred tasks of the mentor is to potentially introduce the mentee to a part of his network, in order to get the ball rolling. Also, the mentor’s network may create additional opportunities and possibilities.
All of this, however, is useless if the mentor has no time to actually be an active mentor. It is vitally important that the mentor and the mentee can physically sit together on a regular basis to define goals, have questions answered, to discuss the work undertaken, and to define the next steps.
Trust is another vital element within the mentor-mentee relationship. Ideally, both persons already have some form of trustful relationship with each other; the mentee must be assured that the mentor will keep all conversations confidential and that the mentor is dedicated to the development of the mentee from his side, whereas the mentor must be sure that the mentee is willing to dedicate time, effort and willpower to develop, that he/she is willing to take criticism and to follow the instructions and suggestions of the mentor.
Additionally, the mentor will also need to trust the mentee, that he or she actually has what it takes to reach his/her goals. This means, that the mentee will already have demonstrated his skills to the mentor, which adds to the trustful relationship.
Last, it may be of great benefit if the mentor and the mentee have similar backgrounds, similar views of life, and share the same interests. Also, gender may play an important role, as men are more likely to know from experience what is going on in another man’s head. Under circumstances, culture may also play an important role, so that communication and cultural understanding is facilitated, and both the mentor and the mentee can fully dedicate themselves to the mentoring program.
Where to find your mentor?
There are many different possibilities to find a mentor. The most obvious is to look within your own families, such as your parents, or perhaps an uncle or aunt. Also, friends of the family are a good alternative. The big benefit of such mentors is that there is a very strong basis of trust, especially when your direct family is concerned. However, you need to evaluate for yourself whether you would like to follow the way they developed, or whether you would like to go your own way.
An alternative is to look into your own network of people outside the family, to identify a potential mentor. This is already much more difficult, as people tend to create networks with people who are similar to oneself (e.g. social class, age group, income, etc.). A mentor-mentee relationship is indeed a relationship between generations.
If you cannot find anyone within the family or within your own network, you will need to look for possibilities to get to know people, who could potentially be a mentor. If you do so, your goal is to focus on the older generation. One option is to look for such people within the company you work for; the only issue here, is that there might be a conflict of interest if your goals do in fact not match with your company’s goals, or with the professional goals of your mentor. For this reason, be careful picking colleagues as your mentor. If you still have to do, take colleagues with whom you connect well outside work too.
Additionally, you might want to consider to join special clubs, such as a golf club, or a gentleman’s club. Or perhaps some of the well known internationally operating social clubs. When doing so, your main objective is to get active socially and to get to know the other members. You should never indicate that you are looking for a mentor too fast because trust is a vital element upon which mentors will agree or disagree to support you; and trust is built over time.
What are the tasks of the mentor?
The tasks of the mentor are versatile but mainly focuses on teaching the mentee about life, about methodologies, helping the mentee to define his goals at different levels, and to introduce him to opportunities. His or her tasks are to:
- devote time to physically meet with the mentee at periodic intervals.
- ask the mentee the right questions, in order for the mentee to find solutions to goal setting and to reaching his or her goals.
- provide the mentee with advice on applicable methods to reaching his or her goals, as well as notorious dos and don’ts.
- agree with the mentee on work to be done, working towards reaching the mentee’s goals; hold review meetings with the mentee on a regular basis.
- sponsor projects and initiatives which are beneficial to the mentor, which are being led by the mentee, challenging the mentee’s intelligence, skills, and motivation.
- introduce the mentee to (a part of) his or her network, allowing the mentee to gain valuable connections and to seize opportunities.
- promote the mentee, his or her work, skills, dedication, results, and work in progress.
- share with the mentee the general wisdom of life.
What are the tasks of the mentee?
The tasks of the mentee are as versatile as that of the mentor, and even much more demanding. In the end, the mentee will have to do a lot of hard work, in order to make the mentoring program a success. The fact, that someone has already declared to be a mentor is a great sign of trust; in the end, the mentor can also lose face if the mentee does not complete the related work to the satisfaction of the stakeholder. Therefore, it is the mentee’s task to:
- proactively search for a mentor, and to set up regular meetings with the mentor.
- acknowledge that the mentee is responsible for all the work to be done and that he/she is prepared to do whatever it takes to produce positive results.
- listen to the mentor, and accept criticism or critical questions.
- take calculated risks, to think out of the box, and to conduct work (such as projects and special initiatives) as suggested by the mentor.
- realize, that the success or failure of the mentee is also the success and failure of the mentor.
- show interest, curiosity, ask questions and develop a hunger for information and development.
- be open-minded, and seize the opportunity to meet new people and work in different projects and initiatives, regardless of how small or how big they are.
Working hard, taking risks, and expanding one’s network are only some of the things to do when it comes to personal development. Having a good mentor, who is dedicated to your development, is the other. Mentors can either be found within your own family, or via your social network, your professional network, or clubs you are a member of. The main element of a mentor-mentee relationship is trust, and as a mentee, it is your task to take the initiative and to be proactive in order to demonstrate that you are worthy of having a mentor in the first place.
As a mentee, you will be looking at a lot of hard work, and doing things that are new and potentially scare you. Nevertheless, a mentor can make the big difference between working hard your entire life without any significant steps in your development, or reaching your goals more effectively by benefiting from the life experience of someone who has done it all.