Why look for a mentor
"If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together", this proverb of unclear origins synthesizes a great truth and a good reason for having a mentor. No matter how prepared you are for a position, a more experienced workmate with a better understanding of how your organization works can help you navigate the uncertainty in many ways. There is no need to take the hard path. There is no need to go alone. There is no need to find yourself struggling for every single objective you have in mind. Mentorship is a relationship that makes two persons grow faster, optimizing the efforts.
Mentor or mentee
When looking for a mentor, you should keep in mind that besides experience, soft skills and professionality, it’s also important to choose someone with whom you share a personal connection. You both will need to trust each other to make the mentorship work. You will spend (invest) time together regularly so it should be someone you like to talk with. However, try to find diversity. Someone with a different point of view than yours will open your eyes to new perspectives and give you knowledge about things you would not have expected before.
Being a mentor is not a favor, it's an honor. Working you are adding value, mentoring you are multiplying value. Enabling people to do more, better and faster is the most impressive boost to provide to your company. As a mentor you will be helping someone to handle a burden without neglecting your own. Don't assume your mentee's problems will be easy to handle just because you have more experience. Ensure you are in the right personal and professional moment to be a mentor. If that's not the case, kindly decline the offer and help that person to find someone else to be their mentor.
Mentorship is not a senior figure throwing up concepts that somehow the mentee has to learn and do something with them.,Mentorship, and being a mentor, is about being there and being the person you needed at your side some years ago, at the beginning of your journey.
No Ego culture
It is important to set certain expectations when starting a mentoring relationship. Both mentor and mentee must keep in mind weaknesses and strengths of each other. For example, a mentee must understand that asking for mentorship about something specific such as working in React when the mentor has a focused expertise on .NET, won't be very helpful. However, this same example could link the topic that this relationship is bilateral and both members can learn from each other, and even in some instances flip roles as to whom is mentoring and guiding whom. An ebb and flow in the relationship.
A nice way to start the process is having a kick-off session about the expectations. Lay your cards on the table and be frank, agree to three or four realistic goals both of you want to achieve in the short and middle term. Write them down, as if they were the vision of a company. Invest some time to figure out if the mentor has the skills, the contacts, the time and the tools to help with those goals. Set the implementation details aside, It's too early to build action plans, but you can start scheduling recurring checkpoint meetings with a preliminary agenda.
Keep in mind that a mentorship is not a hierarchical relationship. You both will be equals, and the mentor will try to guide the mentee on some already set expectations. But keep your ego in a box during this process. The mentor is not a teacher. Their goal is to bring the best of the mentee out and guide them on a learning journey, but it’s not their responsibility if the mentee does or doesn’t apply these teachings at the end. Mentors can and should do their best, but what the mentee does with the knowledge and guidance shared is completely up to them.
As a mentor, you shouldn’t expect your mentee to put in practice every single one of your indications. Mentors will very likely have a lot of stories resulting in success (or a learned lesson), but past returns do not guarantee future results. What worked for someone in a very specific situation may not work in a similar one. Mentors need to be humble enough to recognize this, and in any case, avoid an 'I told you so' attitude.
Not only about coding, not only about tech
Besides sharing your knowledge, as a mentor, you can help to expose the great work of the person you’re helping as much inside as outside your company. You can also use your network to help that person give talks, publish articles or become the contact for some intern initiative. You can use your influence with clients to get the mentee to be a reference in some work or technology where they are already succeeding.
One of the most important things a mentor can offer is helping to manage frustration and failure. Making the mentee understand that learning is a never ending job and a long distance race. Doing this well can be one of the biggest achievements as a mentor. You can teach by example that effort must be in doses. That burnout is not worth it, and there is an optimum number of working hours a day. Mental Health is always a priority over work. These are maybe the best lessons you can give to someone who is full of energy and ideas.
How are you progressing? What if you’re not?
Mentorship is a symbiosis, where a mentor is sitting on a mentee’s side, bringing experience to guide them through a path new for one, known for the other, but always different. This path will lead them both to discover new things, new points of view, new questions.
How can you evaluate the progress on this path? Be constant in your relationship. Set periodic meetings to check and prioritize the goals. Analyze if you are carrying through with them, and if you’re not, make yourselves think ‘why?’, ‘how can we fix this?’
At the end, the worst case is when neither mentor or mentee is learning. At that point, they will either need to focus on improving the relationship or decide to walk away. As with other kinds of relationships, not everybody is able to get us to the same place, and that’s okay. But you have to be brave and objective to know how and when to decide if the mentorship is not being satisfactory for both of you.
As a Mentor, I have doubts too
It’s common to have questions as a mentor. Beware that mentoring is not a two-step ladder, and that the mentor can at the same time be a mentee in another relationship. The mentor-mentee can apply and improve with the mentee the learnings they got from their own mentor. There is always someone with more experience we can learn from, and this makes mentoring a culture that we should be promoting inside our companies.
Healthy companies, those who want their employees to evolve and grow, support mentoring initiatives. It's important to be aware of the ways your company can support you. Ideally, mentoring should count as part of your work day schedule. It's not a nice to have. You should make enough time for mentoring related activities. Think about it, maybe at your next job interview it's a question you would want to ask.
Let it go
Eventually, you will reach a point where the mentee no longer needs the mentor. Both sides must understand that the cycle is closed: the mentee will need another mentor for different purposes, and the mentor will be able to help the next mentee. This actually confirms the success of the relationship. At that point both will be not only workmates, but friends, knowing that the other will always be there for you.
Disclaimer: The statements and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Thoughtworks.