The Benefits of Mentoring for Mentees
When a mentee joins a mentoring program, there’s a threshold expectation that certain things are going to happen: development needs are going to be identified, goals are going to be set, and the mentor is going to guide the mentee towards achieving those goals. Of course there is a lot of work that happens around those very basic steps but some of that work may not be exactly what you are thinking. Beyond the specific skills and goals that will have a direct impact on your career, there are skills that can be applied across the board. If you can be mindful about developing these less tangible skills, they can have a positive impact on both your professional and personal successes.
So, what do I mean when I say “less tangible skills”? I’m talking about foundational skills that are the basis for learning about your everyday work and will also help you with relationships and soft skills:
- Your ability to learn
- Reciprocity in a relationship
- Creating meaningful connections
- Building resiliency and adaptability
Each of these is an ingredient in the secret sauce that will boost your efforts to improve, no matter where you are and what you are doing. Let’s look at how being in a mentoring relationship can factor in to help you develop these skills.
“Learning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere.” Chinese proverb
As this is absolutely true, you want to make sure that you are taking the best advantage of your learning opportunities. Being in a mentoring relationship can give you the comfort zone and time to figure out not just what to learn but how to learn. Your mentor can give you a safe place to step outside your comfort zone and test ideas that might be “risky”. Mentors can also help you save time and effort, as they help you identify what things are “time sucks” and what you should be focusing your energy on. Pay attention to what you are learning and adjust your learning style to what will be most effective in that situation. For example, if you are working on being a better public speaker, don’t just watch a video about it - ask your mentor to critique you or join a group, such as Toastmasters, to develop your skills. Be creative when looking for ways to build skills, so you don’t get in a rut. As you achieve some successes from what you’ve learned, you will increase your confidence to continue taking on new challenges.
“It's so good to have the opportunity to help others who have helped you.” Karen E. Quinones Miller
One thing that most mentees don’t consider as an opportunity but should, is the satisfaction of being in a relationship that is much like a partnership. There is a sense of reciprocity in a mentoring relationship because, believe it or not, your mentor is also getting some benefit from mentoring you. Some skills, such as getting satisfaction by sharing expertise or increasing their organizational reputation, are mostly applicable to them but you both can take advantage of riding the life-long learner train. Yes, you are the mentee and will be doing most of the learning but you can change the dynamic of the relationship by knowing that you, too, have something to offer. This feeling is called the “protege effect” and benefits you by making you more aware of your learning process, can make you a more effective and efficient learner, can make you more open to learning new things and give you an increased feeling of competence. During the many years that I served in the program admin capacity, another home truth was made clear to me. The mentees who were engaged and actively took responsibility for their learning, rather than passively letting their mentor decide everything, had the most productive and successful relationships. By “mentoring up”, you can share your thoughts and needs and provide your mentor with the information that they need to help you become more successful and achieve your goals.
“The most basic and powerful way to connect to another person is to listen.” Rachel Naomi Remen
You cannot exist on this Earth without having connections and having positive, effective connections will alleviate stress, aid productivity and make you feel healthier and happier. Working within a mentoring partnership can help you build the skills needed to create these relationships - celebrating differences, being present, advanced communication skills such as effective listening and giving and taking feedback, and empathy. These skills apply to every relationship that you have, no matter if they are professional or personal relationships. In addition to developing connecting skills, your mentor should illustrate for you the importance of making the right kind of connections. Your mentor can help guide you so that you don’t spend a lot of wasted time and energy pursuing and cultivating connections that won’t help you attain your goals. Sure, meeting with someone who uses a 3-D printer to create a kidney is the coolest thing EVER but will spending that time with them actually help you do your work? Sometimes you need to weigh the pros and cons of how you allocate your personal resources.
“Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is success.” Henry Ford
Hand-in-hand with forming good relationships is knowing how to collaborate. It may sound like a no-brainer - you help people out when they need it or join in on the teamwork. However, it’s easy for some folks to fall into a trap of having no time to do their own work when they don’t know how to prioritize requests and learn how to say “no”. Your mentor can help you strategize about what types of requests will benefit both you and your colleagues and show you which ones are just a time suck. They can also help you practice how to say no without alienating your coworkers. This is a tough one for many people but if you don’t develop strategies for dealing with this, you can find yourself stressed and burned out.
“Mentors have a way of seeing more of our faults that we would like. It's the only way we grow.” George Lucas
And last but not least, you can build your resilience and adaptability in the workplace. Resilience is your ability to bounce back after encountering a difficult situation, while adaptability is taking those same difficult situations and finding a way to create a positive outcome. For example, you may have your 5 year career plan all mapped out and suddenly your company goes through a complete re-organization and you find yourself in a different department doing different work. How you handle those changes speaks to your resilience and adaptability. By going back and looking at your original development plan, your mentor can help you come up with a new strategy to get you back on track or even help you embark on a completely new track. Learning from these changes and moving forward is key to building both of these skills and growing toward the future.
So, when you sit down with your mentor to discuss the career development skills and goals that you’d like to achieve during your time together, take a few minutes and talk about how you can incorporate new ways of learning, reciprocity, connecting, collaborating, resilience and adaptability into your plan. You’ll both have a richer experience and you’ll have more tools to take with you!
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