When I started out working as an aged care coordinator there was so much that I didn't know. Actually I wasn't aware of what I didn't know, which meant I didn't even know what questions I should be asking!
I was fortunate to find a mentor who helped me over those first few years. My mentor provided guidance and support but also challenged me to keep learning, to keep improving.
When I wanted to develop my business I sought out a new mentor, someone who had already walked the path I wanted to follow. Yes, she has a totally different business to mine, however the strategies of business development remain the same. Over the years, I have also developed friendships with colleagues who have supported me and shared their knowledge, but a knowledgable friend is not the same as an experienced mentor.
So who could be classified as a mentor?
A mentor is an experienced and trusted advisor who guides and trains people with less experience or knowledge.
Similar to a management relationship, mentoring relationships are not based on friendship and clear boundaries must be introduced.
A mentoring program operates best when there is a formalised framework with defined goals in place for both the mentor and the mentee (yes that is an actual word).
This helps to keep everyone ‘on track’ and will produce better outcomes.
My business mentoring was set up as a formal relationship and kept me accountable. The fact that I also had to pay for my mentor's time helped me to make the most of the time I had with her, but it was worth every cent.
Many workplaces are recognising the benefits of mentoring programs that support new workers or those who are working remotely from a central office. You may find your organisation assigns a workplace mentor to support you. If this is the case – use their expertise to help you to develop your knowledge base and your skills.
A good workplace mentor can assist you to:
- Feel confident in your job role
- Understand organisational culture faster (including what the unspoken rules of the workplace are)
- Reveal to you the secrets that help your workplace operate better (ideas that have worked in the past)
- Help you keep up to date with industry changes
- Can introduce you to a network of people and support organisations in a short period of time
- Provide an opportunity to discuss and share ideas and strategies
- Give feedback on your progress
- Provide a sounding board to debrief
- Help you become effective faster
- Alert you to issues that can then be dealt with promptly
These benefits will only materialise if you engage with your mentor in a positive way.
Tips to get the best help from your mentor:
- Be prepared to complete any tasks that you and your mentor agreed on last time you met, decide what key issues you need to discuss ahead of the mentoring session and formulate your questions.
- Be flexible and open to change as sometimes your mentor may challenge you to do something different or look at an issue from a different angle.
- Accept criticism with an open mind. Yes it's hard, but sometimes we need to be given a reality check.
- Listen to what your mentor is saying and take the opportunity to reflect on the content discussed, preferably as soon after your mentoring session as possible. If you can, it is best to take 10 – 15 mins after a mentoring session to internalise the information and plan any actions.
- If you don't agree with a suggestion made by your mentor be open and honest and discuss this with them, maybe it worked for them but you know it won't for you. That's okay, but you need to discuss the reason with your mentor.
- Don't waste time discussing trivial personal issues. This is a work relationship not a counselling session.
- Accept responsibility for your own development. Your mentor can provide guidance, however you are the ‘master of your destiny'.
Have you had a mentor before? What were the best things you got from the relationship? If you haven't had a mentor before, would you appreciate the opportunity to have one? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.