3 Tips for Making a Mentorship Useful for Both Parties
Mentorship is one of the most important working relationships professional women may encounter in their careers. If you are reading this article, you should have been through a mentorship, either formally or informally. One major misconception about mentorship is that it is a one-way relationship, where the mentor is responsible for providing training, and the mentee is there to receive training, guidance, or suggestions. In my observation, this misconception sometimes discourages senior professionals from becoming mentors. It is a lot of work and a significant commitment to mentor people, and it is very natural to ask, how am I, as a mentor, going to benefit from this mentorship? Let’s discuss how to engage a mentee and how to make the relationship beneficial to both partners.
Select the Right Mentee from the Beginning
Like all other relationships, a mentorship should develop naturally. Just as one would not ask someone for marriage on the first date, your mentee probably did not ask you to be his/her mentor when you just met. Two people have to get along first to develop a mentorship. Their ways of dealing with things and people in the professional world need to echo in some way. If you do not have a mentee yet, start looking for one now. It could be a junior person who just joined your team and reminds you of your younger self years back. It could be a summer intern who is deciding between joining the industry and continuing to graduate school. It could be a coworker from another organization who wants a career change into your area. It could be someone you met during a conference or seminar who shares some of your professional views. Start the relationship informally, with no stress on either party. Only with a match and dual interest will you have the possibility to build a good long-term relationship. However, also make sure there is some difference between you and your mentee so that you each have the potential to learn from one another. It is always wise to intentionally put in some time to check how willing the person is to make a change to him/herself since feedback or advice only works well with a true inner willingness for change. “Observe” the potential mentee and focus on how he or she does things instead of what he or she tells you.
Intentionally Engage the Mentee
Meeting regularly is a key to a successful ongoing mentorship. It is obvious but hard to execute sometimes. I often hear complaints like, “My mentor’s calendar is always full, and I never get to see him/her,” or “My mentee does not seem to want to meet with me, and we ran out of topics.” A good match does not necessarily lead to a successful relationship. Mentorship is a unique relationship since it is mixed with professionalism and emotion. Career development will always be a central topic; however, it is natural to develop a friendship out of a mentorship. Both parties control the nature of the specific mentorship between them, so intentional investment and engagement are very important. Try to meet at least bi-weekly with your mentee (it does not have to be official, but stick to it in your mind). The form of a meeting can also be diversified: it could be a traditional one-on-one meeting, it could be participating in activities/events together, or it could simply be reading an article or paragraph of a book together. Sometimes either the mentor or the mentee may think there is nothing to talk about and thus no need to meet. This is wrong. Prepare for your meeting with a few icebreaker topics in mind, like recommending a good book/seminar, sharing your own life/work experience, or accompanying the mentee to some events and asking about his or her opinions. Interactions between people can spark the conversation.
Benefit from your Mentee
There are obvious benefits for the mentor from the mentorship as an extension of his or her professional development record or extension of professional networking. Being a mentor provides you a very good opportunity to learn from your mentee, given that your expertise may not fully overlap with one another. Also, by coaching your mentee on your area of expertise, the organization and re-polishing of your knowledge provide another opportunity for you to re-learn it.
Another benefit is your mentee can be like a mirror to you sometimes. By helping your mentee through opportunities and challenges in thier career, you will understand better the pros and cons of a certain way of working. For example, when a mentee complains about a bad communicator, it is a good chance for the mentor to examine his or her ways of communication by asking himself/herself, Do I make similar mistakes? Do I know people’s reaction could be this when I said something like that? When a mentee talks about the experience of pushing himself or herself out of a comfort zone and achieving something big, it is also very natural for a mentor to think, That sounds great. Can I apply that same courage to my professional life? When you are helping your mentee, you are not only solving his or her problems, but you are also given a chance to examine your own working life, too!
It is said that in helping others, you help yourself. The long journey of a career is not necessarily an easy one, but it can definitely be a fun one with the right people accompanying you. Positive feedback in mentorship adds a sense of fulfillment and achievement to one’s professional life, not to mention the real benefits it brings. Women are born to be great mentors. Even without realizing it, you may have already been playing a mentor role in your workplace, so why not act now and intentionally look for a suitable mentee?89