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The role of mentoring

Better Business | Business Insights | The role of mentoring

“Our chief want in life is somebody who will make us do what we can.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

  • Think about what you want from a mentor and how you want the relationship to develop
  • Think about what you can bring to the mentor, as well as what they can bring to you
  • Listen and take the advice offered

Mentors are useful in building a career, but hanging off someone like a love-sick Labrador is not likely to improve your career. How can you forge effective mentor/mentee relationships?

Up front, it is worth thinking about what you want from a mentor. What are you seeking to achieve from the relationship? Is it knowledge, advice, the possibility of learning from someone else’s mistakes? Is it guidance, motivation, emotional support, or role-modelling? Or is it more nakedly commercial? You want a good mentor to help with developing contacts, to access that all-elusive seat at the top table?

"Up front, it is worth thinking about what you want from a mentor. What are you seeking to achieve from the relationship?"

You will need to give something back. Some will bring on new people out of the kindness of their heart, and to ensure that skills roll down the generations. However, at some point, they are likely to expect something in return – anything from a meal out to a a nice non-executive directorship when you have, finally, made the top table. Either way, they will expect you to listen and take their advice, if only for the warm and fuzzy feeling that their role is appreciated.

Here are six tips on picking a good mentor:

  1. Make it organic – don’t rush up to the keynote speaker at the end of a conference. Build relationships slowly.
  2. Don’t hero-worship – While it’s good to aspire, don’t just pick someone because they’re in a position of authority. Unless you have some kind of personal connection, it will be a chore for both of you. That doesn’t mean you have to be best-buddies, but you need to value each other.
  3. Look side-to-side as well as up. You might be able to pick out a colleague that is destined for greatness and take their advice.
  4. Don’t always look for someone like you. Someone with different skills and temperament may be better at seeing what is holding you back.
  5. Don’t ask what, ask how. When faced with a problem, ask your mentor if there is anything that has happened in their life that can help you.
  6. It’s all about give and take: Listen, take advice, challenge and have a debate. Mentors will often be in it to learn as well, and don’t assume it has to be one-way.


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