Mentoring: Building Bridges and Avoiding Pitfalls

By Hope Venetta 

On March 15th I had the wonderful opportunity to share some insights I have learned over the years with AENC’s FUEL group

Here are the highlights

  1.  What is a mentor? Since we are all familiar with the concept of someone who imparts wisdom to and shares knowledge with someone who is less experienced, let’s talk about some of the specific kinds of mentors you can find.  Incidentally, you mentor does not have to be your boss or someone who manages you.
    1. Advocate/Sponsor – This is someone who takes up your cause.  A cheerleader.  It is usually someone in your company or industry that has access to key leaders and decision makers that you don’t.  This person sees something positive in your work and is willing to speak on your behalf to those who can affect your career.
    2. Teacher – The teacher gives specific instruction about a specific topic.  Think Mr. Miyagi from the Karate Kid
    3. Guide/Coach – The guide doesn’t tell you what to do.  He or she knows where you are going and lights your path as you move along.  A career Sherpa if you will.
    4. What can you expect from a mentoring relationship?
      1. Do not expect a listening ear for griping or whining.  Also, don’t expect your mentor to be a fairy godmother/father who grants you with new career opportunities and projects that will lead to your promotion.
      2. You can expect trust, someone who will keep your confidence.  Someone who will communicate to you the truth about your abilities and what you need to learn.  And you can expect respect for your abilities and what you have to offer.  However, you can also expect to do the heavy lifting in the relationship.  The mentor can potentially open doors for you, but you have to be ready to walk through them.  Learning new skills and refining the skills you already have will ultimately be what moves you forward on your career journey.
      3. Is there a special way a mentoring relationship is supposed to be structured?  No.  A mentoring relationship can be very formal with a contract and covenants that you both agree to.  Or, the relationship can be very informal, such as coffee dates once a quarter.  Here are some examples of various mentor relationships:
        1. The famous mentor – Can a best-selling author or industry rock star be a mentor for you?  Absolutely!  You can definitely learn from them through their books, seminars, CDs, and videos if you don’t actually have a relationship with them.  Personally, I have been learning quite a lot from Seth Godin these days.
        2. The ghost mentor – This is someone you observe.  Someone who has an amazing skill or professional way about them that you’d like to emulate.
        3. The mentor in the checkout lane – Huh?  This is someone that you have a very brief encounter with, but end up learning something from them… like your seatmate on an airplane, or someone you went to a workshop with at a conference, etc.
        4. The in the trenches mentor – This is someone who is really involved in your career and serves as advocate, teacher, and guide all rolled into one.
        5. How to find a mentor?
          1. Research
          2. Networking – social media as well as face to face professional networking events
          3. Volunteering – within your own organization, in your professional associations, and philanthropic organizations
          4. SCORE – the Service Corps of Retired Executives could be a wonderful resource.
          5. Are you a good mentoring candidate?  You will notice that the following qualifications have nothing to do with the skills you already poses.
            1. Are you teachable?
            2. Are you willing to accept criticism?
            3. Are you able to embrace change?
            4. Pass it on.  Become a mentor yourself.  You’ve just read the qualities of a mentor.  All that is required is that you have a set of knowledge or a skill set that someone else does not have.  It doesn’t matter if they are older, or younger, a working professional, or a student.  If you can impart wisdom or share knowledge with someone less experienced, you qualify!
            5. When is the mentoring relationship over?  It depends on you and your mentor.  Relationships can be a lifetime, or as short as a brief conversation over lunch.  The important thing to remember is that like many other personal relationships when the relationship no longer serves both parties in a positive way it is time to move on.

Hope Venetta is the Director of Professional Development, National Association of Social Workers- NC Chapter, Raleigh, NC