Imagine you are working on a project and make a mistake. If you are new to the subject matter or the project is complex, it is easy to make mistakes. Some say, you only learn by making mistakes yourself - and repairing them. You want to talk to someone about this situation.
Imagine, you are asked to run your first big project on yourself. Your colleagues are not able to help you as before. Your manager thinks you are the best person to take this challenge. Your client is looking to you what to do next.
Imagine, you run into a problem and have found a solution. Your team helped to find the solution, but in the end you all have the same background and understanding of the problem. You are still unsure if it is the best solution or even the right problem understanding.
Wouldn’t it be nice to have someone to discuss about your challenge? Get a feedback or at least a emphatic reply. See the wider context. Help with some advice. Obtain self confidence. Calm down emotions. Frame a problem differently. Maybe even talk to someone you do not have a relationship with.
Probably your partner and your friends really do not understand the language your are talking (Charter, Stakeholder, Scope, ..), so they often cannot help, even if they want.
A mentor from your profession can help.
Mentoring is the process to support you with someone (the Mentor) to discuss your professional matters. Optimally, the Mentor is not from your department or line hierarchy. He needs not to be a guru, but he should be at least one step ahead of you in the development. He could even come from outside the company but within your profession (I am still mentoring 2 people in a company I left 2 years ago). The mentor relationship is meant to endure for some time, may be a life time. The Mentor should be trusted and friendly, it is not a neutral relationship. Interpersonal chemistry plays a big role and there is no problem with ending a relationship from either side, if it does not match anymore.
The role of Mentor is modeled after a person called Mentor, who was a friend of Odysseus and adviser of Telemachus, the son of Odysseus and Penelope.
What is mentoring not?
Mentoring is not coaching. Coaching is meant to close a specific skill gap, so it is normally very goal oriented and short, and the mood is neutral. A manager and team leader are coaching their team members, if they see a deficiency. A group of professionals can be coached together to learn something new, which is beyond a training course.
Mentoring also is not teaching and lecturing. It is intended that you, the mentee (also called protege) is in charge of the relationship, organizing meetings, asking question and most importantly you are expected to do most of the talking. The mentor should mainly listen and provide feedback. Ask questions to make the mentee reflect and consider. Give examples from own experience, hint to experts that might support and provide a context and perspective. Maybe review a document drafted by the mentee.
How do you get a Mentor?
Everybody has to have the same understanding what is meant by mentoring. For some it will be just a new word for something they think they already are doing, but maybe it is mixed with coaching a bit. Everyone has some capability about which he or she could be a mentor for others, but often elder colleagues have the most professional experience to build on and should have a larger network to connect with.
Then, mentees looking for a mentor should be able to find one. Experienced professionals should be willing to mentor and say so. Some managers and team leads are nominating team members as mentees.
Maybe ’speed-mentoring’ can help, when the mentors are available to shortly talk with many mentees for about 5 minutes and then decide which the best pair could be.
Why should I be a Mentor myself?
First, as an experienced professional, you probably already help younger colleagues on an ad-hoc base. It is a good habit of older colleagues, to give back and maintain your network. The difference to mentoring is that it is more transparent and structured, which not only enables management to support this better but also will motivate more colleagues to become a mentor.
Second, if the Mentor is from another department as suggested, it will increase your network and cross-team understanding. Cross-team work is important. It will enable you to look beyond your department’s boundaries, use lessons learned from the other teams and help others with your knowledge and wisdom.
Thirdly, the time commitment for mentoring, maybe as much as 1-2 hours per month, is so low it can be tweaked into every schedule. Remember, it is up to the Mentee to schedule and organize the meetings or calls. Great leaders even reserve significant time for mentoring in their schedule.
And lastly, mentoring is a key element to develop your own leadership capabilities, to enhance your active listening, your empathy, your networking. As a mentor you can be a mentee at the same time, on a different topic or level.
You are as good as the average of the five people you interact with most.
(Published in LinkedIN December 2015)