The Time-Honored Value of Mentorship
The Time-Honored Value of Mentorship
Mentorship is a time-honored tradition that links generations and pays forward shared wisdom and knowledge. In the world of business and entrepreneurship, it models best practices, successful habits, tricks of the trade and leadership qualities.
Those who have benefitted from this practice often do not realize the full value of what they have received until years have passed. And they have added their own experiences and wisdom to what was learned.
It is then that the realization occurs — it’s time to become the mentor and pass down what was learned to tomorrow’s leaders.
What Is Mentorship, and How Does It Work?
To be a mentor is to be a trusted adviser.
This entails a foundation of honesty, both with oneself and between the two parties in the relationship. Each should be upfront about strengths and weaknesses, blind spots and goals.
Being a mentor carries great responsibility. What you say, the advice you give, could have a significant effect on someone’s life. This relationship will have a long-standing impact on another person’s career and should only be undertaken when a clear benefit exists.
An important early step in a mentoring relationship is for both parties to establish clear boundaries and expectations. What is the breadth and depth of the relationship and what are its limits? Expectations can be as concrete as specific meeting times to a broader conversation about the scope of the relationship. Honoring confidentiality and confidences shared should be a cornerstone of these expectations.
Generally, the mentee will come to meeting times with questions, issues and specific problems, while the mentor will be available to advise, teach and coach. As needs become defined, mutual goals can be agreed upon that help to bring time spent together to a clearer focus and lead to more efficient teamwork.
Where Do You Find a Mentor, and How Do You Build a Relationship?
A mentorship team can exist within a workplace or in the broader context of a career field. Sometimes it even exists beyond the boundaries of one’s profession, but can be equally beneficial.
“A mentor/mentee relationship is a very personal one,” points out Lindsay Kolowich of HubSpot. “You can give mediocre advice without really knowing a person, but to stand out as an amazing mentor, you’re really going to have to get to know your mentee on a personal level.”
Kolowich explains that this is best achieved through active listening and will set the tone of the relationship. The greatest trust and willingness to be real with one another, in both sharing and receiving, comes from getting to know one another on friendly terms and personalizing the time together.
Furthermore, this helps one know when to hit the pause button and hold off on giving advice, Kolowich adds. Sometimes an off-the-cuff remark is appropriate, sometimes a well-thought-out response is best and sometimes no input other than active listening is required. This awareness helps the mentor to gauge when there is something helpful to add to the conversation and when it is best to step back and not be involved.
What Are the Benefits of Mentorship?
There are numerous nuts-and-bolts applications for mentorship that can be achieved when a solid interconnection is established. A mentor, for example, can foster opportunities for visibility within an organization, career field or community. The mentor is often in a position to recognize these opportunities, and may even have the connections to facilitate them.
Along these lines, the mentor often has access to resources that the mentee does not and can bring these to their attention, whether they be relevant readings, opportunities or experiences. The mentor, in this case, is the one better poised with resources and information that can inform and guide the protégé’s steps forward.
An often overlooked benefit is that a good mentor also plays a protective role, helping the mentee to avoid missteps and miscommunications. This protection extends to identifying viable opportunities to move ahead versus decisions that will lead to dead ends.
Even more important perhaps is the protection the mentor provides by explaining the unwritten rules of the workplace, the so-called “sacred cows” and the battles that are really worth fighting. Helping the mentee avoid critical missteps that are more apparent to the experienced eye may be one of the most valuable roles a mentor can play.
Additionally, constructive criticism has its place in this partnership. A good mentor will deliver honest criticism in a nonjudgmental and inoffensive way. Often, this advice is best framed in terms of helping protégés avoid mistakes mentors have made themselves. Diplomacy and tact are the order of the day here, and criticisms should also come with a plan to improve the situation. Anyone is more willing to change course when there is a clear benefit to doing so.
Mentorship Is a Two-Way Street
Ultimately, advice is just advice, and it may be taken or passed up. A good mentor will respect the mentee’s right to reject advice. And a good mentee will respectfully consider the advice before declining it.
In fact, both parties should understand that this will happen from time to time but know that if it is happening too often, the relationship may need to be reconsidered.
Foti Panagiotakopoulos of GrowthMentor offers the helpful tip that mentors should use the Socratic method when interacting with their protégés. This guides them to think through a situation instead of just receiving rote advice.
Panagiotakopoulos writes that “the Socratic method is an approach to carrying out a dialogue in which the goal is to get someone to arrive at the conclusion that you want them to arrive at by asking them questions.” By arriving at their own conclusions, the mentee will take the intended advice more seriously.
A mentor is in a unique position to motivate and inspire, to protect and guide. The relationship can be of benefit to both parties, and mentors should not be surprised when they are the ones learning or receiving some solid advice as well.
After all, this relationship is a two-way street. Each spurs the other to be the best version of themselves, and the reward will be a long-standing friendship and alliance.
 Lindsay Kolowich. “How to Be an Amazing Mentor: 12 Ways to Make a Positive Impact on Others.” HubSpot. January 21, 2016. https://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/mentor-tips-positive-impact
 Ibid. Kolowich.
 Foti Panagiotakopoulos. “How to Be a Good Mentor: Use these 10 Mentoring Tips to be the Best Mentor Ever.” GrowthMentor. January 19th, 2019. https://www.growthmentor.com/blog/how-to-be-a-good-mentor/