I recently moved to a new role in a new organisation. It is an exciting time for me, but I will miss many of my former colleagues and the working relationships we have developed over the last few years.
One aspect of these relationships which was particularly important to me was mentoring. I consider some of my former colleagues to be mentors of mine, and part of my role was to mentor others too.
I consider mentoring to be a voluntary, lasting relationship of trust between a mentee, who has a desire to learn about different perspectives and ideas, and a mentor who can use their own experiences to offer wisdom and guidance.
Mentoring can be one of the most powerful mechanisms for learning and increasing your confidence in different situations (not restricted to the work environment). If you value these things, there is a good chance you will acquire mentors as you progress through your working life.
As your own pool of skills, knowledge and experience grow, you may well become a mentor to others too (although you might not always realise this is happening).
During my own career, along with many informal mentoring relationships, I have had the opportunity to partake in a structured mentoring program in a large organisation. I was a Test Manager at the time, and my allocated mentor was the head of Human Resources. Our different roles made for some interesting conversations and I learned a lot, although unfortunately the arrangement was quite short lived.
So how do we get the most from mentoring relationships? Each of mine has been slightly different and what works well in one case may not work so well in another. Although I don’t believe in a single approach, I have some thoughts on what to consider based on what I have learned so far:
- It is helpful to understand the difference between mentoring and coaching (which may be shorter term and focused on a particular skill or task). A desire on the part of the mentee to focus on improving technical skills might suggest that some kind of coaching or training would be more useful – identifying this could be a successful outcome from mentoring.
- Relationships can build and flourish naturally, but if you feel you would benefit from a formal mentoring relationship, you could look into whether a program exists in your company. If you would consider pairing with someone from outside your organisation, there are schemes and websites set up to help with this.
- Consider carefully whether a relationship will work well if the mentor directs or manages the mentee’s day to day tasks. My own preference is to avoid this, primarily because it is important to be able to speak freely and openly with a mentor about challenges and frustrations (some of which might be due to the direction received).
- It is often worth allowing time for relationships to develop. Things don’t always click in to place right away.
- The focus of conversations should be on the mentee and their development and experiences. If discussions simply focus on solving immediate work related problems, or if the conversation is dominated by the mentor, it might be a sign that the relationship is not really working or that it is perhaps more of a coaching relationship (which may or may not be more appropriate).
- Mentoring relationships have a shelf life. There will come a point where the relationship is no longer helpful to one or other of the parties. Acknowledging this can help understand when to move on to a new mentor with a different perspective.
- Setting some goals for the relationship can be useful in focusing conversations on particular topics. They can also help in understanding when the relationship might have reached a conclusion.
- In my experience, one of the best indicators of successful mentoring is when both the mentor and mentee find the relationship useful; if they are both learning from each other.
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