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Mentor Me?

By Sherri Petro (1083 words)
Posted in Professional Development on October 20, 2013

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Not to be confused with the great Bruno Mars’ song Marry Me, we do have an engagement of sorts when we ask for someone’s hand in helping to develop our career. Whether it be an informal or formal relationship, there are great ways of asking for -- and making the most of -- a mentor’s assistance.  


For the mentee, how do you approach a potential mentor? How do you maximize the value of this burgeoning relationship? How do you best communicate your challenges without sounding like you don’t know what you are doing?


On the mentor’s side of the equation, committing to a mentoring relationship requires time and energy. What are the benefits to you? How do you communicate your expertise without sounding like a know-it-all or starting every sentence with “When I was in that situation …” or “Here’s how I would do it…?” 


I’m In It For the Long Haul 

Mentees, what do want out of your career? Consider the outcomes you want from this relationship. As Dr. Covey’s first of the Seven Habits indicates, “Think with the end in mind.” What are your career goals? Then put some mind share and consider: 

  • The competencies your current job requires

  • Areas where you want development assistance

  • Challenges you face currently 

  • Shortcomings you believe could hold you back 

You have to know the message before you make the approach to any potential mentor. This prep work will refine your thoughts and make it easier to identify and solicit a mentor. It also gives you the opportunity to think how to frame the challenges so you don’t come off as a whiner with a short-term agenda! This is about your growth for the long-term. 


Once the mentor has made a commitment to your development, be sure in mentoring sessions to define how you will best work together, bring salient issues to the table and have regular check-ins. Don’t abuse their time and expertise. Be thoughtful on what you bring to them. Hold yourself accountable and come prepared to meetings.


Am I The One?  Hmm, Maybe I Need to Know You Better 

Potential mentors, you’ve been there. You understand the organizational culture, how things are done and the challenges of getting a job done. Your expertise is a valuable commodity a mentee is enthusiastic about and wants to learn. By becoming a mentor, you sharpen your own skills by helping to develop the skills of another. 


You also need to have prep work done to determine if you want to invest your valuable time. Are you the right person for this mentee? When you are approached, ask questions about the person’s expectations. Hopefully, they will have done the homework suggested above so you will know.  


Once you sign on, manage your own expectations when mentoring. You are teaching by example and coaching more than telling a mentee what to do every time a question is asked. Sure, you are a sounding board for ideas but you must be careful not to own the idea. By asking questions about the mentee’s thought process, you will act as a guide when you see a critical element missing. You will shepherd their thought process. Mentoring is not an ego exercise. Don’t find the sheep yourself by telling them what to do unless they have not been in that field before. If the latter is the case, then you tap into your experience and give context and options. A few more best practices for you to consider:


  1. Share what they cannot see for themselves from their vantage point. Dole out pearls of wisdom that offer perspective.  

  2. Freely give. When a mentor offers from his accumulated wealth of resources and knowledge, everyone benefits.  

  3. Be thoughtful with your counsel. The mentee is going to be very impressionable. What you say has weight. Watch your words!


Are We Meant To Be?

Mentoring goes awry when both parties are not committed, forget the original intent or let their meetings get swallowed up by other priorities. They also can be less effective than intended if both parties are not examining the relationship and its value. 


Whether you are considering mentoring as a possible next step in your professional development as a mentee or a mentor, you will have ample chance to put the communication skills you’ve been honing to work. This path can benefit both parties and lead to better decision-making and more robust leadership. Yes, it does require forethought and careful communication. And it can be very worthwhile – perhaps a proverbial match made in heaven? 



{#/pub/images/SherriPetroUpdated.jpg}Written by Sherri Petro, President of VPI Strategies & California Miramar University (CMU) Professor Sherri is a professor, accomplished strategist, organizational development professional and executive coach.  She consulted for 13 years in the for-profit, non-profit, and government sectors after a 16 year corporate career.  She teaches the Strategy Capstone as well as Leadership, Change Management and Business Ethics courses in CMU’s MBA program. Her current passion is educating organizations on how to increase organizational sustainability by leveraging the talents and skills of all in multi-generational workplaces. Sherri offers remedies to misunderstandings that result from different belief structures and lack of coherent communication by creating understanding and making connections at the belief level not only at the behavioral level.


Do you have a question for Sherri?  Please visit our Workplace Communication Skills Community, she will be happy to help: Ask an Expert


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Comments (1)

Deepak Bhootra posted on: October 24, 2013

My style of functioning is geared towards ‘imbibing’ from others i.e. I am keen and ready to take guidance and input from ‘others’ who matter to tame my emotional continence. Very early in my career I realised that I had to gain access to these ‘others’ i.e. mentors to open both mind and heart (on occasion); to have them hear me out and then guide me in the sense making (which was impacted due to my emotional nature) needed to formulate an understanding of the situation and the response to the same.

There are many reasons for why people need mentors and my rationale for suggesting finding a mentor is simply because they can be role models as they have been through a corporate journey that you might be admiring or keen to follow. They can share nuggets of wisdom from their own corporate journey but more importantly help you in providing the necessary emotional maturity to understand a challenge and how to handle the same. For me my mentors have been gold-mines over the course of my career and I have consulted them on issues such as career options for myself; how to manage an issue with my manager; behavioural adjustment in coping with an issue at work etc.

- See more at: http://deepakbhootra.blogspot.in/2013/09/do-you-have-sounding-board-at-work-find.html

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