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Mentors – What are they and how to get one

I don’t think you can be in the business world without hearing about or reading articles about the importance of mentorship in your personal career success.  It has also been promoted as a key factor in gender equality which enables women to learn behaviors that will allow them to be successful in largely male-dominated STEM fields.

Mentorship is a relationship in which a more experienced or more knowledgeable person helps to guide a less experienced or less knowledgeable person.

The mentor may be younger than the person being mentored.  Also, many people have many mentors around different areas of their lives.  If you need help with your teenagers, finding someone that has open and honest communication with their teenage children may be a good mentor for you.  If you need to be a better presenter you want to seek out someone that is excellent in presenting formal presentations.  There are long-term mentorship relationships as well as short term mentorship relationships.

Formal Mentoring Relationships

These may be relationships set-up and facilitated in a formal work or organizational program.  It may be a formal arrangement you have with your mentor that is clearly defined by both parties.  The pluses of these are that it makes it easy for a mentee to get a mentor (they are assigned to you!); also generally the mentor will receive some sort of training or a program to follow to make sure that the relationship is beneficial to both parties.

The drawback to these is that the relationship between the mentee and the mentor is a very large factor as to the success of the mentorship.  The mentor needs to understand the mentee, their goals, and their strengths/weaknesses in order to better guide the mentee.  The mentee must trust the mentor has their best interests at heart and take action on the advice of the mentor.  This type of relationship takes time to develop and occasionally formal mentoring programs do not last long enough for the relationship to grow to this depth.  In addition having a poor mentor is actually more hurtful than having no mentor.

Informal Mentoring Relationships

These are relationships that you probably have already.  Maybe it has been your parents, a spouse, a former boss, a teacher, a coach, or a co-worker that took you under their wing.  These tend to be more effective for the mentee because typically a deeply trusting relationship with the understanding between the two parties happens before the mentoring occurs.  These are the people that pull you aside and tell you things you may not want to hear because they care about your success and they want you to succeed.

The downside of this mentorship arrangement is sometimes the mentee may become dependent on the mentor these relationships typically last years.  Since these relationships are less formal, the responsibility is on the mentee to ask for advice or expertise as the mentor isn’t being directed to provide feedback on a specific schedule.January 2017 UPDATE:  I ran across this article today and it perfectly demonstrates how an informal mentorship shaped this woman’s career.

Obtaining a Mentor

One of the questions I get the most often “How do I get a mentor?”  The answer is right in your mirror – you!  Here are some steps you can take to get a mentor

  1. Identify what you need to develop or what knowledge you are lacking that would be most beneficial to you today.
  2. Identify people that may have that knowledge or competencies today
  3. Watch those people work, ask them questions, request their feedback, ask for their advice, and implement it.
  4. You could ask for a more formal mentor relationship with these people, however, many people when approached are very concerned about what you would expect from them.  So be clear that you are only seeing feedback and advice.
  5. There are also paid mentorship/coaching relationships with professional mentors and coaches that you can hire.

What Mentorship is Not

Mentorship isn’t the same as sponsorship. Sponsorship is promoting or recommending you to others. This isn’t part of mentorship and you shouldn’t expect your mentor to do this for you. Your mentor should be able to know all of you – the good and the bad so they can provide the best advice.

Mentorship isn’t necessarily training.  Although your mentor may provide knowledge to you or train you on how to do something, mentorship is really about getting advice or their perspective based on their greater experience or competency.

Mentorship isn’t coaching – although some coaching competencies will help a mentor be more effective.  Coaching isn’t about telling you what to do, transferring knowledge, or providing advice – it is more about developing a person’s ability to reach their full potential.

Are you looking for a professional coach or mentoring relationship – feel free to reach out to me directly.


Stephanie Simmons, Associate Certified Coach


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