Estimated reading time: 4 minutes
Recently, my fellow board members over at The Workforce Institute weighed in on the topic of mentorship. I hope you’ll check it out when you have a moment.
While many organizations have in-house mentoring programs, individuals often seek out mentors outside of work. And when I refer to mentors, I mean someone different from a coach. A coach helps someone achieve a specific goal through listening, questioning, and process. Personally, I believe there’s a place for both mentors and coachesin our personal and professional lives.
I define a mentor as someone with subject matter expertise in a specific topic. Mentors help an individual by passing along their knowledge and skills. Which is why you should spend some dedicated time thinking about who you would like to ask to be a mentor. Here are three things to consider:
It’s okay to have more than one mentor. If the goal of a mentoring relationship is to pass along knowledge, it makes a lot of sense to have more than one mentor. A person should think about what they expect from a mentor before asking. I know when I’ve been asked to be someone’s mentor the first thing that I want to know is what the person is hoping to gain. It helps me decide if I’m the right person to be their mentor.
Mentoring isn’t about age. Let’s address an obvious myth. Mentors don’t have to be older people. If the goal of mentoring is to pass along knowledge, that can happen at any age. Yes, it’s true sometimes knowledge does happen with age and experience, but that shouldn’t be the only criteria. Which leads me to my next point…
Mentors should be diverse. An individual could benefit greatly from having mentors that are different from themselves and from each other. There’s no rule that says you have to do everything your mentor says. I would suggest listening and asking questions…but don’t be hesitant to get other insights. The goal of a mentoring relationship is to help you…not to tell you what to do.
This might also be a good time to point out that mentors are also different from role models. A role model is someone you can look to as a good example. But mentors are someone you have a relationship with. So, there could be individuals you look to as role models like a teacher, celebrity, or even someone at work. It’s possible that your mentor could also be a role model BUT not all role models will be mentors.
Deciding to have a mentor(s) is a great thing. But it takes some planning. Decide what you’re hoping to accomplish. Think about who might be able to help and their qualifications. Be prepared to talk about these things when you ask someone to take on a mentoring role. Oh, and consider whether your mentoring relationship needs to be in-person or could it be virtual. This could impact who you ask to be a mentor.
One last thing. Becoming a mentor is a huge responsibility for both individuals. It’s possible that someone might decline your request. Not because of you. Maybe they have too much stuff going on in their life and don’t feel they can give you the attention you deserve. Don’t take it personally. It’s possible that another time could be better. Also keep in mind that mentors aren’t necessarily forever. It’s possible that the mentoring relationship might need to take some breaks along the way. That can be a good thing for the relationship and perspective.
Having a mentor and/or being a mentor is a wonderful thing. The success of the mentoring relationship is based on…having the right relationship. That means asking the right person. For the right reason.
Image captured by Sharlyn Lauby while at the Wynwood Art District in Miami, FL29