I can identify several key influencers that have helped shape the professional I am today. Some of those advisers didn’t even know they were “mentoring” me at the time, but that’s often how the best mentor/mentee relationships come to fruition.
Unlike school where we are assigned a teacher, mentors are people we choose or seek out for their specific knowledge and experience based on what we want to learn. In the best relationships, mentors can have an incredible influence on our lives, both personally and professionally.
When a person comes to me and asks for a professional consult, I know I am being presented with an opportunity to make a major impression on someone’s life, no matter how brief the interaction.
People seek out mentors to fill a gap or to provide new expertise. If someone reaches out to you in this capacity, they consider you an exceptional person from whom to learn. That’s definitely not something that should be taken lightly.
Truthfully, I find mentoring an unintentionally selfish experience. When one of my mentees is gaining value from the relationship, I can’t help but feel rewarded, knowing that I was able to convey constructive advice.
Keep an open mind
It’s important not to expect your mentee to do exactly as you instruct or try to live vicariously through them.
Remember, it’s their life and their choices; all you’re doing is sharing experiences from which they can hopefully benefit. I have also found that the needs of long-term mentorships often shift over the course of a relationship from specific guidance to more of a sounding board for them to work through an issue or challenge.
It’s also important to know when you can’t provide all the answers. Put ego aside and recognize when it’s time to advise your mentee to seek out another opinion because their needs exceed your knowledge base, you’re compromised by a vested interest in the outcome or you simply don’t have the time to devote.
It’s important to set boundaries in the relationship because more often than not, mentors don’t get paid. Is it fair to be compensated when mentoring? There’s no right or wrong answer.
Personally, I usually provide mentorship pro bono because I find it rewarding to share my experiences for the benefit of others. I have, however, been offered equity to be an adviser or board member, which is on a far more formal and professional level.
Whatever the case, it’s important for all parties to have a common understanding of the relationship and align their expectations.
It’s always OK to say no
A mentoring relationship must work for both sides. It’s important for a mentee to respect your time and knowledge and, in return, they should not impose expectations beyond your commitment level or cross personal boundaries. Mentorships, while friendly, are not friendships, and should be kept professional.
Mentoring is one of the oldest forms of relationships. Think of those who have helped you reach your goals. It’s time to give back by sharing your personal wealth of knowledge with others. ●