Recently, I gave a presentation at a Talent Management conference highlighting some development programs at my company, one specifically being a Mentoring Program for female emerging leaders. I’ve had the opportunity to serve as Mentor for the past 3 years and prepping for the conference really got me reflecting on my own experiences. By participating in the program I experienced more personal and professional growth than I have in a while. Since several mentoring programs seem to be starting this fall, here are my tips for a meaningful journey based on my own experience.
For the Mentee (or Protégé)
Be Prepared: The journey is yours. Like anything in life, you reap what you sow. Bring forward specific ideas, questions, or goals you want achieve to your meetings with your mentor. Don’t show up unprepared thinking you’ll shoot the breeze or hoping your mentor has a planned agenda – or even worse – to use the time to vent. Your mentor’s role is to help guide you, but you need to have a map.
Be Open: Most likely you’ll be paired with a mentor who’s more experienced than you and probably older than you are. Maybe you think you’d do things differently than they did. Maybe you don’t agree with a choice they made in their career. That’s the whole idea. Being open to learning from differing perspectives and approaches in an open and trusting way is how we grow as people and as leaders. You’ll be grateful that you did.
Be Inquisitive: Ask your mentor lots of questions and take advantage of their experience. They’ve had success and more importantly they’ve had failures too. If you ask, they’ll share whatever you want to know (within reason!). Your mentor may be able to prevent you from heading down the wrong path, but you won’t know unless you ask some thought provoking questions.
Be Respectful: My last tip is an umbrella for the whole journey. Be respectful of your mentor’s time. Everyone is busy. Your mentor is likely balancing work, life and community in addition to the time they’ve dedicated to serve as your mentor. Show that you appreciate their time and effort. Be on time. Keep appointments. Listen to what they have to say. Have a defined learning objective to discuss with your mentor. If you do, you’ll have a valuable experience.
For the Mentor
Listen: Really listen. Read up on active listening skills and practice this technique. Suspend all judgments and be in the moment so you hear what your protégé is really saying. A good friend shared this concept with me: WAIT – Why Am I Talking? And this one – WAIST – Why Am I Still Talking? As a mentor, you need to talk less, and listen more.
Be a Guide: Nobody likes to be told what to do. Really? Sometimes people want you to tell them what to they should do. As a mentor, your sole purpose is to serve as a guide. Ask probing questions. Reframe discussions to gain new perspectives. Lead your protégé on the journey of unlocking their full potential. They’re not growing when you’re solving their problems.
Be Trusted: Always keep your discussions confidential. (Exception : you hear something that violates company policy or employment laws where there is legal duty for you to report what you’ve heard). Whatever your protégé shares with you is for your ears only. They may disclose challenges with their team or their leadership. Maybe they’re not happy in their current role or with their existing career path. The most important part of your relationship is to build trust first. Once you establish that, the real mentoring can begin.
Be Open: This tip is key for Mentors too. Be open to learning new things. Think about different ways of doing things and learn about yourself. Mentoring is rewarding and if you remain open to new ideas and experiences you’ll enable yourself to grow as a person and a leader.
Keeping these tips in mind provides a framework for a great mentoring experience and the potential to develop long lasting friendships and rich relationships long after the formal mentoring partnership has ended.
Sandra Karpis is Vice President, Human Resources and the Program Coordinator for her Company’s formal Mentoring Program. She is one of eight senior female leaders who serve as a Mentor to female emerging leaders at her company. She also volunteers in the HRPA Halton Chapter Mentoring Program. Sandra has developed her expertise in Talent Acquisition and Talent Management working in Human Resources for 25 years across 3 industries.