Mentoring is one of the most valuable tools we have available to us and it is one of the most misunderstood and underutilized.  I attribute having a successful 30+ year career to the many mentors I had along the way. 


Some I didn’t realize were mentors at the time.  Like my Dad.  My first job in corporate America, I carpooled with my Dad every day.  Looking back, I realize many of those commutes were mentoring sessions.  He provided valuable insights into many different areas I encountered.  We discussed topics from what to wear, punctuality and of course office politics.  It was invaluable to hear of his experiences and lessons learned so that I didn’t have to go through the same things if I chose not to. 

 

Whenever the topic of mentoring comes up, I am surprised at how many people don’t really know what mentoring is all about.  A successful mentoring relationship cannot be forced.  There needs to be mutual respect and trust on the part of both parties involved.  Mentoring is not just going to lunch once a month.  Mentoring can be a powerful thing if you give it some real thought and a little bit of structure. 

 

Here are a few points I have found to be useful over the years in having a successful mentoring relationship:

 

  • A mentor is a safe place where you can share your struggles, test your theories and receive open, honest feedback without repercussions.  A mentor is not necessarily your best friend but a very close relationship may be formed.
  • A mentor is someone with experience or expertise in an area you are looking to strengthen.  Young or old, age really isn’t a factor.  I have learned just as much, sometimes more, from a younger mentor as I have from a mentor who is older than me.
  • A mentor must be committed to taking the time and making the mentoring relationship a priority.

 

Now some points for being a mentee:

 

  • A mentee should be proactive in seeking out advice.  Don’t limit yourself to just one mentor.  Establishing a personal board of directors where you have several mentors advising you in various areas of your life can be very beneficial.
  • A mentee should be clear on what areas or skills they want to improve via their relationship with a mentor. 
  • A mentee must also make the relationship a priority and be willing to commit the time it takes.  There may come a time when your relationship has run its course or your career is in a different phase and you no longer find a benefit in a particular mentoring relationship.  Be honest and talk to your mentor.  They probably feel the relationship has changed too and want what is best for you.  Don’t just abandon the relationship and leave them wondering what happened.
  • A mentee must take the lead in scheduling regular meetings with their mentor at a time and place that is mutually agreed upon.  Come to each meeting prepared with a goal for the meeting.  Make the most of your time together.

 

As I progressed through my corporate career, I found myself moving from the role of mentee to the role of mentor.  I find it fulfilling to give back to others whenever I have the chance.  Now as I enter a new phase in my life and changing careers in the last few years, I realized I had a need for both roles.  I continue to be a mentor but I am also establishing relationships with new mentors in my new entrepreneurial role.  One thing I am certain of is that I will always be involved in mentoring and truly value the lessons I have learned and the relationships I have gained through mentoring.