At this point it’s almost a rule: if you want to take off professionally, you need a mentor. Then you make a list of renown celebrities in the field for their great successes and begin the odyssey of getting noticed, and finding a way to approach them to ask the big question “do you want to be my mentor?”. Although there are fortunate cases in which this approach works and the mentor accepts, many times these meetings are forced and become a source of frustration and disappointment for both parties. In other cases, the mentor rejects the request and the mentee feels vulnerable and doubtful of her professional value.
Why is this happening?
Fan or mentoring partner?
Let’s start with the basics. Mentoring is a tool designed to help you grow and develop in professional and working life. Acknowledge: why do you want to start a mentoring process? It will be the first reference to look for the right person. It doesn’t help much to have as a mentor a prominent doctor if what we’re looking for is guidance on new business in the automotive industry. It would seem obvious, but it is not, since many people look for their mentors based on their reputation or popularity and not based on the results they hope to achieve. Many times, without realizing it, we have our mentor in front of our nose and we haven’t realized that someone has had this function throughout our professional career.
Something similar happens when people who are starting their professional career look for the CEO of a transnational company to better manage their tasks. The CEO probably doesn’t represent an exciting challenge to give advice at that level of detail and surely won’t have the time anyway.
To get the most out of this type of relationship, it’s important to do the task and investigate who, in your area, is doing interesting things that you would like to know or who has a trajectory similar to the one you would like to develop. It’s known that people around 5 to 10 years older than you would have it easy to evoke a moment when they faced challenges like yours. While this is not a rule, when you look for a mentor, consider that if they have such a senior position, they will be very far from the conflicts that you live right now. Or too junior, and they will not have the knowledge you need to accelerate your career.
Spectator or protagonist?
Another recurring problem is the expectations with which both people initiate this commitment. Formal mentoring programs establish the periodicity of the meetings, the objectives, the way to measure progress and the duration of such meetings. But semi-formal encounters often lack rigor and sooner rather than later end up becoming calls every 6 months to talk about the weather, which is extremely frustrating for both.
When you invite someone to be your mentor you are committing to take control of your development and that includes strategically designing each meeting so that both of you have the impression that you’re moving forward, and that you’re important to the other one.
This point is fundamental since in the past mentoring was thought of as an unequal relationship in which the mentor gave advice, contacts and experience; the mentee on the other hand, simply received the information as in the primaries of the ’90s. This changed and with it, the name that both parts of this relationship bear. They’re no longer mentor and mentee, but mentoring partners. Both must actively contribute time, knowledge, advice, contacts, different perspectives and goodwill in this relationship in order for it to be successful.
In 2016, First Round conducted a study in which 100 mentoring relationships were analyzed. In his findings highlights the importance of preparation for each session to be productive and detonate specific actions and ideally measurable.
– Set the periodicity of meetings in a flexible scheme, which allows both of you to accommodate within your agendas. For example. “See you every two weeks.” It will be too close to the date the day and time are decided. That way mentoring sessions will not feel like a burden.
– Prepare the topics that will be addressed in each session and share them with the mentor before the meeting, so that both can prepare and be more efficient roughout the meeting.
– Choose your mentor based on shared interests and similar experience.
– Allowing the first meeting to simply get to know each other and not just jump into work issues immediately. This will allow that a relationship is authentically established, in which both are interested in each other.
– Measure the effectiveness of the meetings by evaluating the knowledge learned and how they were applied on a day-to-day basis.
For a relationship of this kind to work, it’s fundamental for it to be trust. Not only to ask questions that may bother us but to listen to answers that can be painful or too confrontational. The mentoring space must be one in which both parties can discuss confidential information which is not shared with others, especially regarding their failures and fears.
In this sense, The New York Times recently published a note in which Maya Salam reflected on the negative effects of the #metoo movement for mentoring women. The note highlights the importance of men (who are currently most CEOs or senior managers within companies) wanting to mentor women without fear that the relationship is misinterpreted as harassment. It’s interesting how this community responds with certain mechanisms and indicators so that, on the one hand, women who seek a mentor are prepared to respond to any type of abuse, and at the same time, can generate a relationship of trust in which both can feel free to share intimate situations. As the note says “avoid contact between women and senior executives would delay the development of women”
Finding people who meet these characteristics is not easy, much less if you look for them because of the number of fans they have on Twitter or their position in a company. However, surely there are people around you with whom you have authentically built this type of relationship in which you both grow. If so, and you find that in that relationship there is humility, patience, generosity and genuine interest in helping each other, congratulations! You have the best mentoring partner in front of you.