What do you aspire to? And, how will you get there?
Are you one of those people who keeps your dreams and aspirations secret; reluctant to share them with others? Do you feel that you have to get to the end goal all on your own, because otherwise the victory at the end of the road will somehow not count?
When we don’t share and try to go it alone, it is much harder to make our aspirations a reality.
This is where mentoring comes in, and why so many organizations have adopted internal mentorship programs. The goal of these programs is to help their employees navigate the organization, further their careers, and sponsor and make introductions to people both within and outside of the company. Statistics show increased promotion rates, higher levels of job satisfaction… you get the idea.
So why does it matter, and how can we make it work for us?
All of our lives we have had the benefit of teachers, coaches, counsellors, and parents…who did their best to guide us in the right direction. When we were young, words of encouragement were plentiful and there always seemed to be someone looking out for our well-being. As adults, this type of encouragement can be extremely limited to wholly non-existent. In fact, the more experienced and accomplished you are, the harder it seems to be to establish these types of relationships.
Wouldn’t it be nice to have someone supporting and assisting you to grow professionally instead of it being assumed that at, a certain point, you have it all figured out? The reality is that we never stop learning and never stop aspiring. No matter how accomplished we are, there is always something more that can be mastered, developed, learned, accomplished, or honed.
Certainly, all of us can benefit from a mentor who can offer insight, guidance and tell us the things we need to know. Even those who are well established in their careers can enjoy these benefits. This Harvard Business Review article discusses the need for CEOs to have mentors. However, while 86% of executives recognize the importance of a mentor, only 26% actually have one, according to an Accountemps survey.
The problem is, when you are moving up in the ranks, it becomes increasingly difficult to find the person who will offer you ‘help and insight’ in the traditional sense. And often, this isn’t what’s needed.
Merriam-Webster defines a mentor as “someone who teaches or gives help and advice to a less experienced and often younger person”. This is similar to most definitions that I have seen: a senior to junior relationship, with the more senior individual imparting all of their long-learned wisdom, typically in the same organization or field.
Of course, this always tends to fall into the usual cycle where the junior receives all of the benefit, and the senior word-vomits about what they do and how they got there.
What if we flipped that concept on its head? What if a mentor could be a younger, less experienced individual and the mentee the more senior professional? What if the individuals don’t work in the same company, or even industry? When one is already well established, sometimes what is needed is a fresh perspective to enable continual growth.
And, wouldn’t mentoring be so much more effective if both parties were able to benefit from the relationship?
Mentoring for mutual benefit
Mentoring for mutual benefit takes the relationship from ‘WIIFM’ (what’s in it for me?) to ‘what’s in it for both of us?’ In this type of scenario, the senior individual doesn’t always take the driver’s seat. Instead, the relationship is one of mutual learning.
Here are 6 advantages of a mutual mentorship relationship:
- Providing new perspectives – Working with someone less experienced or from a different industry can help to shed light on systems of work that may need refreshing (and you may not have even realized it!). Having a fresh set of eyes, and new perspective can help you to learn a new way of thinking that can benefit you both professionally and personally!
- Advancing your career – This is a fairly foreseeable outcome of for juniors when it comes to mentorship relationships – it seems the major point of the relationship is to build new connections, and work on skills that may help with that promotion that has been a long time coming. However, it is important to think about how someone less experienced may also assist in opening your mind to new prospects in your career when advancement may no longer seem possible or necessary. While you may be successful already, your network can always take a new turn that can lead to new, better things.
- Helping each other learn and grow – This is a two-way street – we can all learn from one another on an ongoing basis. This also plays into the above statements about career advancement. Showing a strong connection with others by helping them learn and develop can help to increase personal satisfaction, and can show that you are able to build strong and meaningful connections with others.
- Building your leadership skills – Leadership skills aren’t a natural gift. They are something we develop with lots of hard work, and they need to be practiced in order to maintain their positive effects. By engaging in a mentorship relationship you can continue to hone your ability to motivate and encourage others. This can help you become a better leader, and also enhance your ability to be a part of the team that you may lead.
- Improving your communication skills – When you spend your days dealing with people at the same level as you, and often in formal ways, it can be easy to forget how to interact with different types of people. Taking on a mentee who is from a different background or environment can force you to learn to communicate more effectively, so that you may understand each other. I recently wrote some tips about how to communicate more effectively, you can see them here.
- Gaining personal satisfaction – While this may also be an unremarkable feature of mentorship, it shouldn’t be underestimated. Contributing to someone’s growth and success can be extremely fulfilling. More importantly, the things you learn can also help you to gain satisfaction in what you do, and you may not have even realized that you could be more satisfied!
‘Mentoring’ is dynamic and there is no cookie-cutter formula for making a mentorship relationship effective and fulfilling. Going in with the expectation that both parties will receive value and benefit from the relationship, and structuring it so that they do, is a first step. This requires a conversation about expectations.
How have you structured mentoring relationships for mutual benefit?
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