Lessons in Mentoring

The benefits of peer mentoring and tips

Kim Nelson discusses peer mentoring to WILMA’s 2019 Leadership Institute class.

While a large portion of women agree that mentorship is important, only one out of five women have a mentor.

That is one message shared by Kim Nelson, mentoring adviser to WILMA’s Women to Watch Leadership Initiative and partner at KNTCompany.

“Mentorship plays a key role in helping women advance at work and climb the corporate ladder,” says Nelson, who discussed mentoring and peer mentoring in particular to members of the 2020 Leadership Institute cohort during their orientation session January 22 that took place at tekMountain.

Nelson, who is also chair of the GLOW Academy School Board and president of the board of directors at Plantation Village, highlights many of the benefits of mentorship and how mentees and mentors should approach the long-term relationship.

“If you go through life with the perspective that you have something to learn from everyone you meet, you’ll collect a lot of informal mentors along the way,” Nelson says.

WILMA: Why is peer mentoring important?

Nelson: “Research shows people who are mentored make more money and advance more quickly than those who are not. In addition, mentoring relationships can be a rich part of your professional and personal life. Mentoring provides an opportunity to practice effective communication skills. The manner in which you communicate can increase your perceived worth within the organization and allow you to articulate your career goals better. A mentoring relationship also provides you a means by which to talk through difficult decisions and to consider perspectives outside of your own.”

WILMA: What are some tips that you have for mentees?

Nelson: “A good mentoring relationship should force you to step out of your comfort zone and be curious. It should help you explore the possibilities of doing the things that scare you. Learn as much as you can about them until they no longer scare you.

Once you have identified a mentor be prepared with specific questions, areas for feedback, and requests for support. Share your goals and your personal mission statement.”

“To get the most from your peer mentoring relationship the objectives should be well-defined and measurable. You should be purposeful in your discussions. Your mentor is there to help you, and they truly have your best interests at heart. Be 100% honest and 100% open to feedback.”

“You should feel comfortable enough to fully open up and not hold anything back with them. Inhibitions have no place in a mentor discussion. Remember, they are not judging you. If you hold back your thoughts and feelings when talking to them, you’re not doing yourself any favors.”

WILMA: What are some tips that you have for mentors?

Nelson: “Even if you don’t think you’ve ‘made it’ (yet) or think you lack the expertise that might benefit a potential mentee, you’re still a long way ahead of women who are just starting out or are making a career transition. Don’t undervalue the insights, work/family juggling skills and hard-won wisdom you’ve acquired to get to where you are today.”

Active listening is an important part of any mentoring relationship. People who listen actively don’t simply sit back and allow words to hit their eardrums. They sit up straight. They take notes. They ask questions. They repeat or “mirror back” what they’ve heard to ensure they’ve understood it properly. A mentor’s response should be non-judgmental: you should refrain from interjecting your own feelings or opinions (even if you disagree with what they are saying).  You should also refrain from sharing your own experiences until you have reached the fundamental and common understanding of what your mentee wishes to address or learn.  Ask open-ended questions to clarify things if necessary, but refrain from asking probing questions, especially those that reflect your opinions and/or worldview.  Remember:  this is about the mentee, not about the mentor!”

WILMA: What is one key takeaway from your “Benefits of Peer Mentoring” presentation?

Nelson: “Women need to be more proactive about securing mentors. Be intentional about selecting the mentor and the relationship. Don’t be afraid. Think about who you are beyond the goals.”

WILMA: How should someone approach a person to ask about them becoming their mentor?

Nelson: “Think about the goal you want to achieve. Think about people who can help with that goal. Ask friends, co-workers to connect you if it is someone you don’t know well. You can all have a cup of coffee. Or just tell the person you would like to get to know them a little better and invite them out for coffee. You don’t have to commit to a mentoring relationship if you don’t think they are the right person after getting to know them better.”

WILMA: Any other important information about mentoring you want to include?

Nelson: “You must be honest with yourself and your mentor. It does no one any good to misrepresent information. A mentee should carefully consider what a mentor says but in the end, the mentee should be deciding what is right for them. They should not blindly follow a mentor.”

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Categories: Women to Watch