Here at Skim.it we’re big believers in lifelong learning, shown through our mission to help people more efficiently consume and share information, to increase knowledge. We are therefore also interested in ways beyond our own, for how best to develop knowledge. And one way I have found to be great for doing so, is through mentorship.
I’m sure you know, either from first-hand experience or more likely from having read and been told countless times, having a mentor – and also being a mentor for that matter – can be hugely beneficial for you.
Compared to colleagues who did not mentor, individuals who served as mentors within their workplace reported greater job satisfaction and commitment to the organization. In addition, higher quality relationships were associated with even greater benefits.
That’s a reference from a study, found within the Journal of Vocational Behaviour, that reveals the outstanding benefits of mentorship. Specifically, in the above instance, the benefits of serving as a mentor.
However, the best evidence in recent times that I have witnessed that demonstrates the case for mentoring, comes in the form of a fictional TV series – Suits.
At the core of the show is the relationship between Mike – a genius college drop out with a photographic memory and raw talent for the law – and Harvey – a brash, smooth talking, always winning New York power lawyer. As soon as the two of them meet, Harvey knows Mike is the man to fill the role he is recruiting for – and the mentorship relationship quickly blossoms, with both Mike and Harvey greatly benefitting from it.
Suits, now in its sixth season, really is brilliant, so I’d urge you to watch it. There is so much to learn from it, and none more so than the workings of mentorship. Mentorship runs through the show as one of the main themes, and by doing so illustrates how the benefits of mentorship can be looked at through three different lenses:
1. Mentorship benefits for the mentoree
The above quote perfectly sums up in a single sentence the main reason why I’m such a huge fan of being mentored. Furthermore though, other benefits I have experienced from having a mentor, include:
– It helped me to take better control of my career. I had a clearer understanding of the different routes I could take on my career path, and the necessary steps to take based on the choices I made.
– I was able to learn the unwritten written rules of ‘doing business’. Those things that only come with experience, but are vital for achieving success. Simply, I learnt valuable lessons far sooner than if I had no mentors.
– Improved networking. I was able – once I’d proved myself – to tap into the network of mentors. Some of the most important contacts I have made have been through the mentors I’ve had.
– Mentors have given me the confidence to say, do, and achieve things I never thought I could. Yes, it sounds cheesy, but you can’t underestimate the importance of having someone to turn to for encouragement, who you truly believe in.
2. Mentorship benefits for the mentor
There really are just as many benefits available for the mentor as there are for the mentoree, they include:
– Help’s to increase the mentors sense of self-worth, achieved through the sharing of knowledge.
– Helping others and seeing them develop, leads to higher levels of personal satisfaction and reflects well on the mentor.
– Mentoring adds another dimension to the career of a mentor – it can be revitalising.
– Allows the mentor to continually develop their interpersonal and relationship building skills – making them a better employee, leader, and person in general.
– Helps the mentor to develop and broaden their understanding, whether on a specific career, organisation or the world of work at large. They, like their mentoree, are continually learning from the experience.
3. Mentorship benefits for the organisation
Even though mentorship tends to focus on the relationship between the mentor and the mentoree, and the benefits they both experience through their exchanges; there are huge beneficial upshots for the organisation too. Clearly though, it falls upon the organisation to foster mentorship, primarily through a mentoring program – which when done well, allows an organisation to experience:
– More loyal employees, shown through a reduction in employee turnover.
– A culture of knowledge sharing – that is continually cultivated – which is vital for innovation.
– The strengthening of leadership skills primarily in mentors, but in mentorees too.
– Improved employee career development. Those being mentored are encouraged and helped along their career path, by their mentor. This type of training is invaluable.
– A positive work environment, one in which high employee engagement levels can be experienced, due to everyone invested in the improvement of others. High employee engagement is now widely regarded as being linked to substantial improvements to the bottom line.
There’s no doubt about it, mentorship offers huge benefits – for the mentor, mentoree and the associated organisation. And so mentorship – specifically that of having a mentor – should really be a vital part of everyone’s career.
Yet, it’s surprising just how few people can actually say that they have a mentor. Well funnily enough, the surprisingly low numbers, are actually no real surprise at all.
Getting a mentor is hard.
Right from the get go, it’s hard.
Yet, often when people and publications profess their love for, and the benefits of, mentoring, they seemingly fail to mention the difficulty in actually getting a mentor. Nor does there ever tend to be any actionable advice for getting one. Instead, just all the reasons for getting one. Well, I tell a lie. Normally the advice is to email someone who you would like to be your mentor. Often someone you admire, who also tends to be someone you have no existing relationship with, or that you have any connections to.
Yes, you don’t ask you don’t get. But I’ll get to the reason later as to why I’m not a huge fan of this ‘cold’ approach when it comes to getting a mentor.
It’s easy to see how ‘getting a mentor’ has found itself being perceived as something that is straightforward to do. Like all you need to do is decide when the time is right to get a mentor, and simply go out and get one. But just in case I haven’t made it clear enough; shopping for a mentor, is a bit like shopping for your fussy other half. Difficult. And often your plan of attack is, to put it mildly, lacking in appropriate direction. Leading to results that aren’t particularly well received.
Luckily, I’m going to identify a few pointers that have greatly helped me in the world of mentorship, and so what I do believe will help you too. First up, let’s make sure you are clear on just what a mentor is…
1. Be clear on what a mentor is
In the workplace, it’s easy to think you have a mentor, when really that person is more of an advocate of yours. By that I mean they are directly connected to your progress within the workplace, and your progress will also reflect on them. Therefore, they will push for promotions on your behalf, or get you on the right projects. Yet they may refrain from providing you with the psychological support, personal development, or the transfer of knowledge that a mentor – in the truest sense – would provide.
I always like to think of a mentor as someone, through experience, who is able to nurture self-decision making and personal growth by lending various viewpoints to different situations. This person therefore doesn’t necessarily need to be someone specific to your industry, it could be someone from a completely unrelated discipline.
2. Identify existing mentor’s first
It’s worth remembering that you don’t need to be enrolled on an official mentorship program, for you to actually be mentored. There’s a strong chance that you’ll be in a relationship that provides you with some of the qualities of a mentorship relationship. Such as receiving feedback, help with your goals, or just general motivation and encouragement.
By failing to notice the mentors already in your life, you could head off exploring other more formal mentorship options and miss the chance to take advantage of the mentorship opportunities right under your nose.
3. Be cautious with the ‘will you be my mentor?’ emails
This is a slight frustration of mine, and perhaps what stops, would be mentorees, in their tracks. Advice from other thinkers and publications who spout the ‘you need a mentor in your life’ message, tends to be to email someone you admire asking them to be your mentor. While in an ideal world, it would be lovely to email someone high profile who you have no existing relationship with, who then accepts your mentorship invitation, and a lifelong beneficial relationship ensues. Unfortunately, this tends not to be the case. It’s why after firing off countless emails, the wannabe mentoree becomes downbeat and puts on hold their search for a mentor.
Instead, in the same vein as identifying existing mentors first, you should begin by looking closer to home. Go through your network to pinpoint any potential mentors. These can be people you know, or people your connections know. What is crucial is that there is a level of affinity, an existing form of relationship with potential targets, so that a mentorship relationship can be deemed to be relevant.
While I may be going back on my word somewhat. There is still merit in reaching out to high profile mentors that you don’t know, or have any connections too. But what I would say is don’t try and hit them straight away with the mentorship request. Instead, find a way to establish an initial relationship with them. Once achieved, it is a far better base to launch your mentorship attack from!
4. You can’t force mentorship.
The true success of the relationship between Mike and Harvey – Yep, I’m referencing Suits again – is the palpable chemistry between them. It is wholly evident that both are fully supportive of each other, and enjoy the time they spend learning together. This was clear from the first time they met.
As with any relationship, if the chemistry is not there, then it just won’t work at the level required. Your gut will soon let you know if the chemistry is there or not. And unfortunately chemistry is something that can’t really be forced. So no matter how notable the mentor is, if the relationship doesn’t fit, then it’s time to start exploring other options.
Right. Let’s say you’ve now identified a relationship – where chemistry is present – from which being in you feel you can experience the benefits mentorship brings. Now it’s time to understand the key principles to follow when entering a mentoring relationship, to improve the chances of success – for both the mentor and the menteree.
Three mentorship principles to follow:
1. Reciprocity is key
The best relationships are clearly two-way, where both parties benefit from the exchanges. The mentor must experience significant benefits, for them to stay continually engaged in the relationship – benefits such as those that I covered at the beginning of this article.
2. Honesty is the best policy
The mentorship relationship needs to be an open and honest one, where both parties can speak freely. If the mentor and mentoree agree on everything, then there will likely be very little learnt.
3. Make your own decisions
A mentor isn’t there to purely tell their mentoree all of the answers. The best mentors are those who can take a step back, and so do not provide answers on the particulars of problems, but instead provide context and insight that allow mentorees to make decisions and take action by themselves. It really isn’t about precise instruction or acting like a boss, the mentoree must feel like they are succeeding on their own.
The penultimate point I want to make is how just because you haven’t got that classic stereotypical mentor, doesn’t mean you can’t still experience some of the benefits of mentorship. There are two other options available to you. These include:
1. Building a network of accelerators
These are people who you can turn to less frequently than a single traditional mentor, and the relationship won’t be as close or as strong. But by doing so you are drawing on a specific function of mentorship; acceleration.
Ideally you need to identify those who you can turn to, to help you make decisions or put you in touch with others, who can help you accelerate along your career path. It’s why when you enter into new situations or positions you need to always remain aware of those who could be potential accelerators for you in your career.
2. Peer mentoring
In simple terms, this is taking work chat with friends to the next level.
I’m sure when amongst friends you’ll ask each other how work is going. You’ll probably just skim over the surface of what you’re up to, without asking for any real specific advice. But you’re missing a great opportunity to expose yourself to some of the great elements of traditional one-on-one mentoring.
Now, given you’re amongst friends, there’s no need to turn it into too much of a business meeting. But it will help to put some structure in place. By that I mean, everyone discusses their current position and the decisions they face. From that plans are created, goals are set, actions outlined, and timelines put in place for when feedback can be given.
I’ve found it to work pretty well, as it provides often much needed accountability, support and reassurance. Taking this approach also not only provides more of a reason to spend time with friends, but it also does away with the need to find an expert mentor – often the biggest barrier to even getting started with mentorship.
Set a whatsapp group up with a few friends, and see how it goes. You might be surprised.
With any luck, you’re now more aware of the intricacies of mentorship.
But, there is one final point I’d like to make. That being; when it comes to mentorship, you need to be in it for the long haul. You’ll never ‘complete’ mentorship. This means you’ll likely fall in and out of mentorship relationships over time. You may not even ever experience mentorship in its traditional form.
However, at least now you know how to identify possible relationships, how to cultivate them and make them a success, and also how to look beyond traditional mentorship relationships.
What are you waiting for? Go and get yourself a mentor, now!
Ha ha come on, you know I didn’t mean it like that. After all, that’s one of the key takeaways from this post; it’s not about getting a mentor, it’s about first understanding what mentorship involves, and secondly then putting yourself in a position to allow it to happen, naturally.
That’s when the mentorship magic happens…