Imagine you are looking for a mentor. Good mentors are wise and trusted advisers. They pass-on knowledge in a way that helps the mentee to achieve their personal or professional goals.
Mentors are now used by many people in organisations. Why? Despite being successful, individuals sometimes like to take time-out to reflect, get an overview of their situation and make good quality decisions. They also like to draw on the mentor’s knowledge so they can be even more effective in their work.
Mentoring plays a key role in organisations that wish to nurture talent. So let’s explore how you might choose a good mentor.
1) You can clarify the qualities you want in a mentor.
Choose somebody who has similar values. Look for a mentor who expresses the values you believe in – and seems able to do so successfully at a high level. When working with young people in the 1960s, for example, I sought out several ‘grandees’ who ran famous therapeutic communities.
Travelling to sit at their feet, listen and learn provided remarkable insights. Each one had a common characteristic; they wanted me to ‘take the best and leave the rest’. They encouraged me to make my own decisions – they did not want followers. Values-fit is vital.
So what are the qualities you want in a mentor? Different people will, of course, look for different things. One person said:
“Credibility is crucial – they must know their onions. They must be a good listener and respect my views but, at the same time, I don’t want them to pull any punches.
"They need to be somebody who has lived – who has had ups and downs – but still has a positive spirit. It’s great if they can understand the way I think—which is in pictures—and provide practical ideas I can use in working life. Do you know any such perfect people?”
Try tackling the exercise on this theme. Describe the qualities you want in such a person.
My Ideal Mentor
The qualities I want in my ideal mentor are somebody who:
2) You can find a mentor – or mentors – with these qualities.
Some organisations have formal schemes that provide a list of potential mentors. They then invite mentees to choose from this faculty. Several things are worth bearing in mind if this is the case. It is important:
* For the mentee to choose the mentor – rather than have one assigned.
* For the mentee to, if possible, choose a mentor who is ‘outside the line’ – not the mentee’s manager or manager’s manager.
* For the sessions to be confidential and focused on the mentee’s agenda – not acting as another form of management.
What if your organisation does not have a formal mentoring programme? Start by clearing it with your manager and HR department that it will be okay to have a mentor. They will normally be supportive.
You can then do what many people have done before – approach somebody to ask if they would be your mentor. Surprisingly, this often works. (You can have different mentors for different topics – for example, a technical mentor and a career mentor.) If you decide to approach a potential mentor – inside or outside an organisation – take the following steps.
First, do your research thoroughly. Get to know about the person, their values and how they are regarded. Do this by asking around – blind dates seldom work.
Second, clarify what you do and don’t want from the mentor.
Finally, clarify how to approach the person.
You will need to position the mentoring in a way that works for them. They are probably busy people – so you must do all the leg-work and fit in with their diary.
3) You can make clear contracts with the mentor about what you would like to cover in the mentoring sessions.
Start by having an informal meeting with the potential mentor. Explain the topics you want to cover during the mentoring sessions.
For example: how to manage difficult customer situations, how to take the next step in your career, how to manage your life-work balance. You will obviously discuss these topics with your manager – but would also like an outside view.
Explain how often you would like to meet and how you will prepare for the sessions. You may want to start, for example, by having 3 sessions – then reviewing the contract. If the chemistry works – and both parties agree – set a date for the first formal meeting.
Good mentoring is often based on clear contracting. So try tackling the following exercise. This invites you to do three things.
First, describe what you want from the mentoring relationship.
Second, describe what you see as your responsibilities in working to achieve these goals.
Third, describe the specific help you want from the mentor.
Share these ideas with them and make clear working contracts. Then enjoy the sessions. Try completing the following sentences.