Real Leaders

Mentorship: The Toughest Job You Will Ever Love

Business team of two using computer together. Business man and woman sitting at conference table with open laptop, looking at screen and reading. Teamwork concept

Mentorship is foundational to business. One-on-one relationships between employees and mentors achieve a host of goals for all involved. CNBC recently reported that 91 percent of workers with career mentors are happy with their jobs.

Employee engagement and satisfaction hinge on mentorship, as does a company’s bottom line. Of course, it is impossible to overstate the role mentorship plays in helping employees and companies weather the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic challenges, including training hurdles, uncertainty, and downright loneliness.

Unfortunately, mentoring relationships are not guaranteed to succeed. Studies show that specific characteristics and strategies lead to success. Mentors that want to lead effectively and invest their time wisely should consider the following:

Seek Personal Synergies

In the business world, a significant amount of time is spent separating the personal from the professional. However, mentorship is one area where that strategy fails.

Personal connection and shared values help mentors and mentees create a relationship based on trust, mutual respect, and reciprocity. Collaborating in an environment of honesty, marked by open communication and constructive dialogue, is what allows a mentee to risk the personal exposure of opening up about her priorities, weaknesses, and fears.

It is possible to establish a good working relationship without a personal connection, as some mentorships are based on professional overlap alone. However, most successful mentorships are built upon a personal and professional synergy that makes communication, trust, and respect natural.

Mentors who seek to establish this level of connection should consider modeling the behavior themselves. Those that show vulnerability inspire the same from those around them. 

Clearly Establish Ground Rules

A mentoring relationship is only as strong as its communication, and the successful exchange of information begins with establishing expectations. This includes agreeing upon the relationship’s scope, the type of assistance provided, and a thorough discussion of boundaries.

As a mentor, your job is to establish your availability, scheduling constraints, preferred methods of communication, and expectations. You should also clearly delineate your role. Will you primarily serve as a teacher, friend, advocate, coach, business development partner, advisor, or a combination of these functions?   

Listen Carefully

Great mentors listen first and advise later. Yes, you are the expert and possess a wealth of knowledge in your field, but mentorship works best when information flows in both directions. Active listening helps mentors assess a mentee’s learning style and sets the stage for you to offer relevant and actionable suggestions.

You will want to ask your mentee to determine his goals, priorities, and roadblocks, as well as strengths, weaknesses, and long-term aspirations. Reconcile your understanding of what your mentee needs with his to create a professional development roadmap. This can be improved further by soliciting feedback from other relevant parties like your trainee’s boss, colleagues, or partners.

By thoroughly engaging your mentee in their development plan, you will devise a meaningful mentorship plan and make room for your mentee to take ownership of their learning and career path. 

Mutually Set and Measure Goals

We know that learning by doing is the most effective way to grow. Therefore, the best mentors offer advice and help their mentees navigate issues until they reach an appropriate solution. This ensures she will have the skills at her disposal to solve similar problems down the line. Your mentee needs to mostly drive her own development as this is what will keep her engaged and give her the skills necessary to meet her future goals. 

However, you can guide this process by clearly establishing what needs to be accomplished between each meeting and then hold your mentee accountable for her progress during check-ins. Additionally, it is wholly appropriate for you to make introductions and open doors. Part of the benefit of mentorship is the networking and relationships both parties bring to the table. 

Of professionals with a business mentor, 97 percent say they are valuable. Yet only 37 percent of professionals are lucky enough to have one. If you are not yet mentoring someone, know that your services are sorely needed.

Acting as a mentor can be incredibly fulfilling. While it requires valuable, limited resources, like time, mentors generally feel that they receive more than they give. Watching someone excel under your tutelage is both motivating and satisfying. As long as you pledge to collaborate with your mentee, respectfully delivering honest feedback, knowledge, advice, and inspiration, you will make the experience just as gratifying for him as it is for you.

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