The first mentor to make a difference in my life was there for me when I was just 12 years old. Being a teenager was really tough for me. I felt like I didn’t fit in at school, two of my teachers were making my life miserable (I probably made theirs equally as hard), and I had problems at home. My school principal began having weekly conversations with me but he never told me what to do. Instead, he asked me questions that made me stop and think. He listened to me in a way that no one had ever done before. These conversations transformed my experience of school and ultimately, my future. The two most important lessons I learned:
2. When you have someone you trust who can challenge you to think more deeply and clearly, you can aspire so much higher than you could imagine.
These two lessons resonate as an underlying theme throughout my life and continue to guide me. My personal and career growth is a direct result of being both a mentee and a mentor at different times throughout my life. No matter which side of a mentoring partnership I’ve been on, I’ve grown both professionally and personally. Today I run my own business and work with clients throughout the U.S. to help them use mentoring to its fullest potential in their organisations. I make a living doing the work I love, I still have a mentor and I have a mentee as well as a number of executive coaching clients that I work with one-on-one.
Are you ready to step up?
It doesn’t matter what career or profession you’ve chosen. If you aspire to go higher, want to expand your opportunities, become more proficient at leading, improve your communication skills, your ability to produce results, and reliably repeat and build upon your successes, effective mentoring will make all the difference – even if you change careers mid-stream.
Mentoring prepares you for the future you dream of. When you thrive in an effective mentoring partnership you set the stage for life-long learning, growth, development, success and the resiliency to recover and benefit from mistakes and failures. My motto is: Get a mentor, be a mentor.
Mentoring Pays Tangible Benefits
A common assumption about mentoring is that the mentees get all the benefits, while the mentors, who are already really busy, do all the work. It turns out that is not the case. Both partners win.
In a report released in June of 2012 by Catalyst, researchers found that when the “high potentials” in an organisation mentor others, it results in tangible benefits such as career advancement, more visibility within the organisation and greater rewards and recognition for the extra effort.
Mentees learn to think more strategically, develop and master nascent skills, gain access to high-potentials who can sponsor them inside and outside the organization. As their careers advance, they are more likely to pay it forward and take on a mentee or protégé.
At Sandia National Laboratories, where I did training in mentorship skills, we found that 75 percent of the participants, both mentors and mentees, were promoted within three years of being in the program. Each year, more than half of the new mentors had also gone through the program as mentees the previous year.
Roles of mentee and mentor
As a mentor, your job is to ask questions that allow your mentoring partner to think more deeply. If your mentee has questions, it will be beneficial to research the answers herself as opposed to just giving the answers to her. She should be the one to manage the schedule, contact you regarding meetings, report back the results without prompting and do what she says she will do. My favorite strategy is to have my mentee leave each session with a minimum of a three-step plan of action – if the issue is very complex, one of those steps could be to develop a more detailed plan.
As the mentor, your job is to clear your schedule and your mind so you can be fully present and give her your undivided attention during your meetings. Your job is to cheer for her when she succeeds, help her see what went wrong when she doesn’t, and most importantly, guide her as she creates her own solutions to her challenges and problems. And don’t forget to walk your talk. Be a role model for your mentee. Let her see you in action whenever possible.
I consistently seek out the mentors I need. I am open to receiving the benefits of their coaching, teaching, cheerleading, acknowledgement and sponsorship. What I gained from my mentoring relationships made it possible for me to successfully run youth mentoring programs for 15 years and move on to delivering mentorship, leadership and communication training for organizations. I take every opportunity to pay it forward. Every skill you use as a mentor or mentee will make you a stronger leader and a more viable candidate for advancement.
WORDS BY SUSAN BENDER PHELPS. Susan runs corporate training company Odyssey Mentoring & Leadership (www.OdysseyMentoring.com). She speaks throughout the U.S. on professional and career mentoring, leadership and communication. She is the author of Aspire Higher, which shares true stories of powerful mentoring partnerships.
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