Mentorship matters. In fact, in this digital age of acceleration, mentoring likely matters more now than any of us have experienced in our lifetimes. Thankfully, we have more channels to help and to get help. Think professional organizations, Facebook and LinkedIn groups, and Twitter. There are networks galore and opportunities abound.
What is a Mentor?
Webster’s defines a mentor as, “a wise and trusted counselor, or teacher; an influential senior, sponsor or supporter.” To help unpack that explanation, the professionals I pulsed while researching this article readily admitted to having more than one mentor. In fact, the trend tends to be leaning toward finding mentors to lean on who influence specific aspects of one’s journey. For example, you might have one mentor to learn how to edit video content and dominate YouTube, and another one to tune effective communication and thought leadership skills. In other words, mentors, like software applications, are becoming specialized.
There are personal and professional mentors. In my personal life, my experience with a mentor began with my third-grade teacher who would meet with me in between classes and in our after school program. Our talks about computer technology, the future of our world and how to creatively express myself helped me keep dreaming and stay on the right path. Over the years, I was lucky enough to have another teacher/mentor or two to help me stay motivated and striving for more. It worked; fast forward 20 years, and I love technology, have a passion for mentoring and try to maintain a student-like mentality for all things – all of which has helped me in business as we continue to evolve in the cloud.
Professionally, mentoring began with a sales manager who felt I could likely do more for the company with little extra help and some one-on-one attention to building up my soft skills. Several years later, I landed in a similar situation with another helpful sales leader who spent many hours with me reviewing recorded calls for sales awareness, participating in sales- and leadership-related book clubs, and encouraging me to complete various associated training courses. Our meetings went well outside the daily scope of work, typically happened outside of business hours on lunch breaks and after work, and didn’t take much of a time investment when considering the other things I still choose to devote my time to … have you seen “Lost in Space” on Netflix? I digress.
Four Ways to Get the Most From Mentoring
- Be (mentally) prepared. Preparing myself to be mentored or mentor someone else is typically where I start. While there is still the time element to consider, I believe the mental component is the more important item. To be the most effective, meetings require a level of patience, vulnerability and decisiveness. It also helps to keep an attitude of gratitude because sometimes the process also involves hearing things that aren’t always easy to hear. And, when recommendations are made, I have to be open to taking action on them, even if it’s to rapidly test a hypothesis. The mental output far exceeds the time requirement in my opinion.
- Be clear about what I’m hoping to achieve. That goes for the mentor and mentee. It’s good to be concise about what I want to give and get from those interactions. Obtuse, hazy or non-specific goals will almost certainly produce the same outcomes. It is also beneficial to be clear on the frequency and duration of meetings.
- Be respectful. This is an essential and fundamental tenet to mentorship. Like most situations I encounter in the workplace, and in life for that matter, my best experiences are usually tied to moments of humility. With humility comes respect. That veneration covers their time, knowledge and willingness to meet with me.
- Be ready to take feedback and action. Some feedback is hard to take, and doing what is suggested is not always the most natural path. The point of finding a mentor is to get counsel from someone who has more experience, tenure and knowledge. To not act on that advice or take opportunity feedback personally seems like a waste of everyone’s time. However, don’t worry. Following the first three steps has always prepared me for step four.
So, there it is: practical advice on how to get the most from mentoring. We get the benefit of fast-path learning from those who have walked the path we are about to take. We don’t have all of the answers, and it helps to lean on others from time to time.
I’d love to hear your own mentor-related stories; put a comment in the box below to keep the conversation going, and stay tuned for other articles in this series!
Editor’s note: Read the other articles in the Tax Pro Center’s mentorship series.