MENTORING: PAYBACK TIME
Pallavi Pinakin suggests extending that helping hand to guide colleagues
Congratulations on arriving at a great stage in your career! You have settled into a leadership role, work is engaging yet stable, your reputation is solid and you’ve built a strong network in the industry. In other words, you’re enjoying the many benefits of professional success.
Along the way, you were probably helped by people who gave you good advice, opened doors for you and guided you through rough times. You now have the opportunity to do the same for someone else… by becoming a mentor.
Mentoring can be deeply rewarding for both parties. An experienced perspective can be invaluable for mentees in the early years of their careers while for mentors, helping someone else succeed can be deeply gratifying.
However, the outcome of this relationship will depend largely on what you’re willing to put into this process. Though there’s nothing wrong with superficial and short-lived relationships, the full rewards of career mentorship come from those that are deep and last long.
Here are seven recommendations to help you become an effective career mentor.
EXPECTATIONS Discuss your new equation with your mentee at the outset. Reach an understanding on what you’re prepared to offer as a mentor – guidance, teaching and coaching, and helping them network are cases in point. Similarly, agree on when your mentee can approach you – such as when attempting to resolve a tough problem at work, mapping their long-term career path, finding new opportunities and so on.
While you can introduce the main parameters, these should be mutually agreed upon by both parties. You should also ask your mentee what topics he or she would like to focus on, then add your own suggestions to the list. Since these initial expectations will shape the quality and content of all your future interactions, make sure the conversation is open as well as realistic.
AVAILABILITY Many mentoring relationships flounder or fizzle out because the mentee is hesitant about where, when or how frequently he or she can approach the mentor.
That’s why it’s important to make your availability crystal clear. It’s best to create a regular slot in your schedule – weekly, fortnightly or monthly – based on the type of mentoring style you have in mind.
PRESENCE The window of time assigned to mentorship should be fully focussed on meeting your mentee’s needs. Give him or her complete attention, address issues and concerns, and prepare a long-term strategy to help your mentee flourish.
Be mindful to ensure that these meetings aren’t rescheduled or cancelled. Consistency is vital to building trust; therefore, become a mentor only if you can commit to regularly spending time with your mentee.
HUMANENESS As a leader, you may come across as somewhat intimidating to junior employees, making it difficult for them to connect with you authentically or honestly discuss their ambitions, hopes and fears. They may also prefer not to bother you with their problems, which can make it tough to guide them effectively.
Sharing a few relatable anecdotes or facts can help you break down these barriers. Tell your mentee about a blunder in your own career or something that you struggle with even today. A small measure of vulnerability humanises you; it makes you more approachable. And it reinforces the fact that failure is inevitable on the route to success, and should be taken in one’s stride. If you’re not comfortable with being vulnerable, try humour instead – it’s a great icebreaker.
ATTENTIVENESS As a mentor, you may feel it’s your job to instantly deliver a solution to any problem. That’s not necessarily the case because sometimes, your role is to listen actively and ask sensible questions while helping your mentee sort through the issue on his or her own.
In other situations such as a serious problem with a coworker or an HR complaint, you need to understand the circumstances fully since half-baked advice is worthless.
CONFIDENTIALITY A mentoring relationship works only if it’s based on trust. Anything your mentee tells you should be kept strictly confidential. And remember that there’s a reason they will share certain issues with you rather than their manager. Any breach of confidence can lead to a breakdown of trust and respect, and undermine the effectiveness of the equation.
MENTORSHIP It’s not only the young and ambitious who benefit from mentorship; even established professionals can enjoy the advantages of being a mentee. A trusted mentor who acts as a sounding board, diversifies your network and offers fresh perspectives is a wonderful asset.
Peer-to-peer mentorship can also help you plug gaps in your skillset and grow in a different direction. You’re never too old or successful to have a mentor. So go ahead and find one for yourself.