As we celebrate National Mentoring Month, I am inspired as I reflect upon my own mentoring journey. I’m excited to share what I have learned over the course of my career that might be helpful to others. It is in that spirit that I offer some advice and counsel to you from two perspectives: as a mentor and a protégée. Below are my five pearls of wisdom. I hope you find them helpful as you map out your own career journey.
– Tonie Leatherberry – Strategic Technologist
1. Be prepared: Anchor on your objective and what you want out of the relationship. Mentors can be more effective in helping you when you have an objective and end goal in mind. Be prepared to stay focused on that topic, as other things will come into play. When I meet with a new mentor, I follow a simple process:
- Figure out how best to tell my story and where I think I am on that journey
- Express my objective and what I want to accomplish
- Share what I am doing to realize those goals, and then
- Solicit input
2. Strive to develop an action plan: Once you establish your objective, determine how to create a set of actions, including milestone achievements, to help you realize your objective. Schedule periodic check points with your mentor, that align with those milestones, to share your progress and discuss course correction. Share what’s working well and what is not so your mentor can help you stay on track.
Occasionally, life events can derail us from realizing our objectives. I try to have conversations about unplanned life events as I develop my overall objectives. Ask yourself questions about how one goal you are trying to achieve can impact other aspects of your life. Look at your objective and action plan holistically, then drill back down to align them as realistically as possible.
3. One size does not fit all: Depending on what you are trying to achieve, you may want a mentor who helps you focus on your career, your personal goals and success, and work life integration challenges. There may not be one person who can serve all of those purposes. We’ve often heard about having a board of advisors. Perhaps a board of mentors would work best for you. Understand what you want to achieve and determine the mentors who can help you achieve those goals. At times along my own journey, my mentors have come together to help me think through a strategy for success.
4. Mentoring is a two-way street: Often, when people reach out for advice or ask someone to be their mentor, they tend to focus on what they are going to receive. Investing in that mentoring relationship and in your mentor’s success will go a long way to strengthen the connection.
Think about what you can offer your mentors. For example, I leveraged my different networks to create opportunities for one my mentors who in turn was able to make meaningful connections that led to speaking engagements. On the flipside, I continue to remind people I am mentoring that they have specific skillsets, perspectives, and capabilities that can be useful to a mentor. In order to stay current with technology, I ask my protégées to share their tech knowledge and help me keep up to speed.
5. Mentoring relationships have a natural life cycle: A relationship may be driven by a set of situations that occur during one point in time or sustained over a period of many years. As part of your objectives and milestone discussions, talk openly about the time frame so everyone is aligned to mutual expectations. You, as the person who is being mentored, own that responsibility. It is also your responsibility to honor the agreed time commitment and follow through on your plan.
Mentoring is not something you initiate at a certain age or level. My career has been infused with mentors along my entire life and career journey. And…I continue to be mentored to this day. Make the most of your mentoring relationships and see how your career, and your life, can continue to blossom and endure.