Advice from Kim Nelson
While a large portion of women agree that mentorship is important, only one out of every five women actually has a mentor, according to a LinkedIn survey.
Mentorship plays a key role in helping women advance at work and climb the corporate ladder.
Research shows people who are mentored make more money and advance more quickly than those who are not.
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.
Mentoring is an ongoing relationship that is intentional and based on moving towards a specific goal. It should encourage the mentee to describe a rich picture of their future success. In other words, how will you be beyond the goals?
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.
The relationship gives you a chance to talk through challenges with your mentor so that you can turn your fear into excitement. Fear is a huge deterrent to many people, and it holds us back from achieving our full potential. With your mentor, you can talk through, “What is the worst thing that happens if I take this chance?” And then, “What is the worst thing that happens if I don’t take this chance?”
In selecting a good mentor, you should be thoughtful and intentional in selecting the right person considering your goal of having a mentor. You can also have different mentors for different goals.
Ideally, you have multiple mentors that serve different purposes.
Think of it as your own personal board of directors. In this case, consider diversity in your mentors. In addition, you are looking for compatibility, which doesn’t mean you and the mentor will think the same way. You are looking for a different perspective.
And finally, be brave and ask.
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.
Unlike traditional mentorship, peer-to-peer mentorship creates an even playing field between two parties who have equal accountability and commitment to one another. It sets up both parties for building a relationship as trusted friends and/or guides. You can think of them as an “accountability buddy” – someone to help keep you on track.
To get the most from your 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.
Remember, your mentor is there to help you succeed. This may mean that they have to give you some tough love or advice that’s hard to hear. Be gracious and know that they are doing this to help you! It’s not easy to receive criticism, but coming from a mentor it’s meant entirely to help you accomplish your goals.
For mentors, a few things to keep in mind for successful relationships:
- You need to establish the framework of the relationship including frequency of meetings, type of communication, and boundaries.
- To have the relationship be most effective you must be honest with your mentor.
Don’t tell them what you think they want to hear. Share the reality of the situation.
- Be open to other perspectives. This is why you looked for a mentor in the first place.
- 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 take notes, ask questions, and repeat back what they’ve heard to ensure they’ve understood it properly. Active listeners are the ones who provide nonverbal gestures (e.g. eye contact, nodding, etc.) that indicate they’re following (or not following) what you’re saying.
- A mentor’s response should be nonjudgmental:
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 reflect your opinions and/or worldview.
Remember, this is about the mentee, not about the mentor!
There isn’t a cookie-cutter for success. One important thing to understand about mentorship is that the mentor can’t live your life for you. They’re there to provide advice and perspective and make you think differently – not make unilateral decisions for you. Recommendations need not always be followed but should always be carefully considered.
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.
Kim Nelson has helped develop mentoring programs over the years and serves as a mentor program adviser for WILMA’s Women to Watch Leadership Initiative. She also serves as co-director of UNCW’s Cameron Executive Network, a mentoring program for Cameron School of Business students.
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