Mary Hinks-Edwards – Weber Shandwick
If you want to scale the corporate ladder, you need to find a mentor. That is the much repeated advice given out to young women these days at conferences, events, in blogs and newspaper articles. And as Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, points out in her book ‘Lean In’, many young women are responding to this advice by actively seeking out mentors to help them with their career progression. But being mentored is only half the story. The mentor should also enjoy and get something out of the relationship. I truly believe that the strongest mentor/mentee relationships are those that are founded on trust and a shared sense of understanding. It is these relationships that are so crucial for career progression and learning, and often lead to great benefits for both sides.
Over the course of my 9 years’ experience in the world of communications, I have been lucky to have strong mentors. But it often takes time, effort and ambition to cultivate my strongest and most beneficial relationships. Few mentors have time for hand holding and are dealing with their own highly stressful jobs. So whenever I need advice from a particular mentor, I make sure to think through the issue and all the possible permutations in advance. She then offers me sound advice, and in return, I might help her with a problem or follow up to let her know the results of our conversation. It is a relationship that took time to cultivate, but one that eventually flourished. It gave me confidence in my abilities and the chance to thrive. And it gave her a sense of commitment from her colleague and a sense of fulfilment and pride.
I am now at the stage of my career where I am a mentor to others, and when I am asked for advice or help it is genuinely satisfying to know that my opinion is valued. But being a mentor also requires a specific skill set that takes time to develop. Here are what I consider to be the 5 key ingredients of a successful mentor/mentee relationship:
- Don’t force it
The relationship is more important than the label. I actually dislike the word ‘mentor’ as it automatically carries with it a wealth of fixed corporate connotations, when the truth of the relationship is defined by the individuals themselves and how they interact with each other. Focus on building relationships with different people within (and outside) your organisation who will challenge and support you when you need advice.
- Listening is key
This is true for the mentor and mentee alike. The mentor needs to take time to listen to the mentee in order to truly understand their career goals, or specific problem they need advice on. A good listener will be engaged, maintain eye contact, sometimes take notes and often repeat certain parts of a sentence back verbally in order to validate their understanding of the issue.
- Show your worth
People invest in those who stand out for their talent and potential. The more effort you put in and the more you are willing to demonstrate your commitment, the easier it will be to form meaningful relationships with those in your organisation. A good example of this is someone who will do their research into a particular individual or issue before making an approach.
Another one that takes time to develop, but is so crucial to so many relationships in the workplace. It takes time to earn trust in a corporate setting, and part of the challenge is identifying who will be a positive influence on your development. Go with your gut instinct and let the mutual trust build over time.
- Be open to feedback
This goes for mentors and mentees alike. Challenging can be a difficult step in the mentoring process, but each side should be open to constructive feedback and view this as an opportunity to grow. Challenges can help both sides see more to the issue than they might have originally seen, and it helps them to look at the situation from a different perspective.