For most of us the obvious path is career progression in the sense of climbing the ladder, from employee to supervisory roles, to managerial roles and then moving on to more senior managerial roles and so on.
But not everyone necessarily wants this type of progression or even realises that there are different paths to follow to find more satisfaction in their career. In a typical large company, there are usually a board of directors, stakeholders and chairmen. Then there are CEOs, CFOs and COOs (Chief Executive Officers, Chief Financial Officers and Chief Operations Officers). Then you have your Operations Managers, Area Managers and General Managers feeding down to Supervisors, Team Leaders and Employees.
Each person within a large company plays a role in the success of the business, but what’s laid out in front of them in terms of the best route for career progression may or may not be a traditional and recognisable path. This is another area where mentoring can be beneficial not just to the company but also the individual parties involved. However, in order for a mentoring program to be a success buy-in is needed from people at every level.
The career path in any business is not necessarily linear and, for example, some people’s strengths may lie within the creative rather than the financial and having a mentor can be the difference between overlooked opportunities and a successful career in a preferred field. Forcing people to fit into a mould and perform in a certain way can actually oppress individual skills that would be of a benefit to the organisation if they were nurtured and allowed to flourish.
What about you?
Does your career path naturally lead toward the top? Or are you already at a point where you are content in your role?
Perhaps if you are at the top, the fulfilment you would get from helping others would unlock a new world of job satisfaction while also benefiting someone else? If so then maybe becoming a mentor is something you should be looking into.
Mentoring is not an exact science and some people step into the role naturally, however, identifying positive mentoring traits within yourself and having the desire to share your knowledge with others is key, if you are thinking about becoming a mentor you are already half-way there to making a decision that could positively impact your career as well as the life and fulfilment of another.
What traits do you need to become a successful mentor?
One sign of a great mentor is a person with patience. Everybody has different learning speeds and although as a mentor you are not there to be a teacher, you must have patience to allow someone to find their feet in a new world of learning. For a mentee, taking that first step and establishing a relationship with a mentor can be an exciting but daunting prospect as it often means they have access to a “higher up” in the organisation who they would not normally associate with and the relationship can take a little time to gel.
Empathy can help build a strong relationship in almost any walk of life and mentorship is not different, as a mentor you should be able to connect with your mentee and understand their position, demonstrating that you understand where someone is and that you have been there before can really help the mentee take the advice more seriously.
A mentee is much more likely to open up to an empathetic mentor as they make more connections and the relationship grows. A mentor that shows they understand the mentees situation and circumstance is more likely to be seen as providing coaching and feedback vs just been critical.
Going into mentorship, you should expect mentees to have an idea of their goals but these may not be clearly defined. This might not always be the case but it will be more often than not, the drive and visualisation a good mentor can help set out goals and create a timeframe that works for them.
Having goals as a mentor will also help to keep you on track and give a measurable result during and when it comes to the end of the mentorship. If neither party is driven by a specific goal, the mentorship can end up in a loop of unfinished business that never seems to grow or change. Mentors that are goal oriented find ways to push boundaries and encourage mentees to take the next steps to reach them.
Organisational skills are an asset in any role, but as a mentor you would be required to organise your time well and possibly help with the organisation of the time of the mentee, keeping a calendar or utilise diary functions on web-based mentoring software are two routes you could go down.
When it comes to being organised, time isn’t the only thing to consider. Keeping records of conversations and ideas will help you when it comes to mentor/mentee meetings so that you aren’t repeating grounds that have already been covered and the mentee can see a clear path from A to B.
Having A Work/Life Balance
Finding the perfect work life balance is an art that is yet to be mastered by many but for many even getting close to a balance is a significant improvement. We live in a day and age where time is a luxury and knowing exactly how to split your time within the work environment and home life can be challenging. An effective mentor ideally should have a strong grasp of work/life balance as they will be operating from an extremely influential position which can mean that they are also able to pass on bad habits.
We can’t all create schedules and stick to them each day, with allotted time to spend at work, eating dinner, spending quality time with family and then booking in some room for sleeping, the days can just happen, and time can run away with us. But in terms of mentoring, finding that balance can be crucial. It is a great idea to create a schedule that works for both parties and also factors in time for you both to enjoy the life side of the balance! People trying to work their way up the organisational ladder often feel pressured to commit an unhealthy amount of time to work.
Listening might seem like an obvious trait required of a mentor but to really listen is a skill. Active listening is a practice used in counselling and training and the listener is required to fully concentrate on what is being said and how it is being said, then in turn be physically seen to listen. As a mentor and mostly during that first or second meeting with a mentee, being able to actively listen and affirm that you are fully attentive can help mentees to feel fully at ease and to build the trust and rapport.
As discussed earlier, a new mentee may not have had the chance or the confidence to speak about their goals before and are looking for a way to help propel themselves forward without judgement. The first meeting is all about building rapport so conversation is definitely advised, however keep in mind that you should be actively listening and letting the mentee finish, especially with their areas of concern. Notes are encouraged but not really while listening as it can be a distraction from the actual content of the conversation. A good idea would be to revisit these areas later on and then use those notes to build a goal structure from.
Taking a Personal Interest
Right off the back of listening comes taking a personal interest in the new mentee. While it is not the role of a mentor to provide therapy, sometimes these conversations about non work-related subjects can act in that capacity while also building a bond. During your career you will probably have found yourself at a point where venting to your colleagues about a task or perhaps a difficult employer relationship has helped you get to the bottom of your frustrations and work through them so you can get the task at hand done. This kind of communication with a mentee can be just the kind of thing they need to hear to know they are not in it alone and that they can work through it.
It is also ok to discuss personal interests and goals outside of the work environment as this can help establish the relationship early on and create a great base for you both to understand the boundaries of topics for conversation. Sometimes the balance of work with home life may be a concern for a mentee up and coming into a new world higher up in their career and as that is something everybody goes through; it is a good topic to put on the table.
A Desire To Develop People
More often than not, your expertise as a mentor will be greater than that of a mentee. Your particular field may be something you have excelled in for a long time and the passion you have for your job may be what got you to where you are today. However you must also have a passion for helping to develop people in order to be a great mentor. It is not the kind of role you can go into without wanting the best for you and the mentee. As well as giving you the job satisfaction you crave, your priorities must lie within passing on your knowledge to somebody who needs and wants your guidance.
As a mentor, your job is not to train somebody from scratch on a certain subject or to try to create a clone of yourself, but to look at existing strengths and skill sets and help to develop them above and beyond in your mentee. There will be occasions where your expertise is required to help solve a specific problem or to at least be able to point them in the right direction, but you will hopefully have established goals that allow you to focus on long term development of the mentee. Information can always get stale and people can get comfortable in the exact position they are in without having those challenges, so it is imperative that their drive matches your passion in helping in their development.
The Ability To Always Remain Constructive
Training and development roles require you to be confident enough to sometimes have difficult conversations, so it is important to set the tone straight away. You, as the mentor would need to take control of the conversation but to get facts across without lacking in confidence when having these discussions. Of course, we all wish these conversations were always positive in nature, but when somebody is on a development path there will always be room for improvement.
Providing feedback in a timely manner is the first and most basic step. It can be so easy to keep putting this kind of conversation off and hope that it goes away, but the responsibility lies with you to make suggestions for improvement and this can be handled by asking questions about how things could have been done differently or if the results were what they expected. By getting this part of a meeting done efficiently, it lends more time to the mentor to actually put to practice what has been discussed within their constructive feedback.
Overall, in mentorship, providing feedback should always be looked upon as a positive experience. As long as the understanding is that you both share the same goals, you should be able to discuss improvements or different approaches to difficult situations. Meetings to discuss or give feedback should be held in a quiet or private place and not in the workplace of the mentee where they could get distracted and not take on board what needs to happen next. Be specific and try not to create a long list of faults as this can be highly detrimental to the process, but make sure at the end of any feedback meeting that both parties understand the next steps going forward.
Mentees are expected to utilize a mentoring program to create or incorporate networks of people into their work role. People that are friends, colleagues, peers or even people in other departments or workplaces. Usually a mentor, as someone who has been there longer, will have an established network and this could potentially be shared with the mentee.
This is not to say if you want to be a mentor you need to urgently create and expand a network as there is much more to it than that but knowing when to share contacts or when it might be a good idea to defer a mentees questions to someone else can have huge benefits.
Somebody in your network may just be better than you at helping a mentee in a specific area and being able to direct the person to a better expert in a certain area will add to the overall value of the mentorship program.
If you have looked at the above traits and see yourself in a lot of them, then mentoring may be for you. But above all, to become a great mentor you need to be a self-starter, be motivated and be motivational. To be motivated, you need to focus on yourself somewhat having your own goals and aspirations, however, at times your ability to motivate others could be your most valuable asset.
Motivators are able to make people see their sense of purpose and give encouragement even at the hardest of times to help the ones that feel left behind set themselves up at the forefront of their career. Motivational speakers are able to inspire people and within mentorship it is your job to provide that inspiration that makes a mentee want to go further themselves.
By sharing stories and knowledge, listening and giving feedback, by being organised and managing your time between work and home life, by networking and by taking a personal interest in others, you are already the motivational person that a mentee would want to guide them through the highs and lows of their career. If you like the sound of this, then maybe mentoring is just the thing for you.