Mentoring - What is your role?

  Hort Snacks - October 2018
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 I’m not sure when the term “mentor” started to be thrown around. I expect it’s been around for quite a while, although maybe it wasn’t used as much as it is these days, and maybe it had different connotations and stigmas attached to it at different times. Obviously, mentoring and mentorship can mean something different to each person. Mentor is defined as “an experienced and trusted adviser” with other similar words including “adviser, guide, guru, counselor, consultant; confidant(e), trainer, teacher, tutor, instructor”. I expect that some or all of these would resonate with you in some way. I think that the keys of any mentoring relationship are the following:
  • It is a relationship, with give and take
  • Trust is a critical component, with mutual respect also important
  • Experience and knowledge are often a big part of the give and take
Informal Mentorship
When I first entered adulthood (or maybe in my mid to late-teens), I don’t know that I ever had a formal mentor for the various things that I was involved in. I’m not sure that I have any “formal” ones now. However, I certainly have been and am influenced by many people around me.

There were (and still are) people with more experience that I looked up to or looked to for guidance and direction; people that I mimicked, or aspired to be a bit more like. There are those that I turn to for help, advice, guidance, reassurance or to help me over the barriers that hinder my progress. I have my go-to people that I use as the walls that I can bounce my ideas, thoughts and plans off of. I have a people that I rely on to (artificially) deepen my pool of knowledge. Sometimes I just need a second or third opinion on something. Any one of these are what I’d consider to be informal mentors. The beauty of this sort of arrangement is that we can literally surround ourselves with mentors (and be a mentor to someone), merely by opening ourselves up to the opportunities that are floating around us.

As I’ve gotten older and more established in my career, there has been a greater push to formally establish mentorship in our various roles, whether to find a mentor for ourselves or to become one to someone else. I’m not sure why this is, but I suppose that it is to simplify things and to force us to consider that we might not know everything about everything. With the ease of finding information at the touch of a button (via the internet), we’ve perhaps become either overconfident or excessively independent. That’s probably debateable. But formalizing mentorship requires us to both assess our growth needs (or weaknesses) and to look elsewhere for a support person that can help build our capacity in one area.

Let’s consider a couple of different formal mentoring examples. For new employees, we know that there is a steep learning curve and it can be daunting to handle the crushing requirement to hit the ground running. Having someone formally identified that they can turn to (when they need it) can really improve morale and productivity. I think that it also help employee retention. On the other end of the experience spectrum, I have a work friend that recognized that they had some specific behavioral tendencies and some growth needs in one particular area. As a result, they searched out someone that could “give it to them straight” once in a while, for a pre-determined period of time (sort of like a contracted arrangement. It really helped them out (personally, I expect that both sides benefited).

As you look at the various examples, it isn’t hard to see that the role of mentor can take different forms. I think that this is determined by our needs and the specific situation that we find ourselves in. The fact is, we can each be mentors at any time, as well as being influenced by someone (e.g. mentored). The key word is INFLUENCE (I think). Personally, I feel that we are stronger the more that we intertwine with those around us. I think that it is important for us to take a bit of time to self-assess and seek out those that might help us to progress. If we are in a position of leadership (e.g. management or supervisory), consider those that you are responsible for, and consider who might be linked together for support/growth.
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This information published to the web on September 24, 2018.