The Power Of Mentoring
12:30 pm, December 6th | by Beth Devin, Manilla.com
Mentoring is a powerful tool in professional development. Most current articles and books will tell you that you should seek out a mentor for a wide range of reasons, and I have to say, I agree. So in this two-part article (look for the follow up on 12/20/12), I’d like to share my experience with mentoring and some of the most memorable
and useful advice I have learned from the mentors in my life.
What is a mentor?
In its broadest definition, a mentor can be anyone you come in contact with in your life from whom you learn something. Mentors can include family members, teachers, colleagues, managers and friends. They can also be people
you don’t know personally but observe and take heed of. Mentors in my life have included my aunt, several of my managers, fellows from a women’s leadership group, and political, corporate and technology leaders whom I have admired.
I have been fortunate to be able to participate in formal mentoring programs. I have been the mentor and I have been mentored. These programs are great because they provide a structure to the mentoring relationship and are typically focused on specific growth and learning areas. Women Unlimited, Inc., is a national program started by Jean Otte with support from 13 Fortune 500 corporations. Its aim is to further develop high-potential women managers and leaders in corporate roles. Similarly, the California branch of the Women in Leadership (WIL) organization offers a 6-month mentorship
program focused on young women just starting their careers. Do some online research to find out about mentoring programs in your area.
However, it’s important to emphasize that some of the most impactful and powerful mentoring relationships are informal and not explicit — for example, when you have the opportunity to work with someone who teaches you a lesson or operates in a fashion that causes you to pause and reflect about where you might improve. For me, some of
the lessons I learned were about what not to emulate. Others were inspiring and made me want to be a better contributor, manager and leader. Pay attention — mentors are all around you!
Your Role as the Mentee
To get the most from a mentor, you need to take charge and put effort into both the relationship and the process. It’s not the mentor’s job to lead or instruct you. Instead, you need to be thoughtful about how you want to grow and develop and what you want to learn. When you are just starting out, you might want help to organize your day and
work, learn about your profession or industry, or validate and solicit feedback on your work. Later in your career, you may be more interested in how to make the transition from individual contributor to manager or presenting to executives. I’m at a phase in my career, for example, where I am learning everything I can about participating on private and public boards.
Once you’ve identified where you want to focus, you can take steps to get the time and exposure you need. You can make “the ask.” Some examples include inviting someone to lunch, attending a talk, setting up monthly check-in meetings, taking a class, joining a group or reading a book. Early in my career, I was curious and asked a lot of questions, I was observant about decisions and organizational changes, I solicited feedback (be careful what you ask for) regularly, and I strived to be open to pushback on my ideas and suggestions, which is not always easy. Today, I tend to seek learning and counsel from external resources as my role is more strategic and outward-focused. For example, I recently signed up for a webinar offered by We are Watermark called “Differentiate Yourself for Board Service,” and I had coffee with
a former colleague who is now CEO of an online web-based service company. The learning and growing never end!
Take a minute to think about what mentoring you have already been exposed to. Was it informal or part of a program? What actions will you take to benefit further from the mentors all around you? After all, they say that imitation is the highest form of flattery.
In part two, I will share some of the most memorable insights and advice I have learned from my mentors and still live by today.
What are your tips for seeking out mentors? Let us know in the comments below.
Beth Devin is the chief technology officer of Manilla.com, a free, award-winning and secure service that helps consumers manage all of their bills and accounts in one place online and via mobile apps. For more career, money, and organizing tips, visit the Manilla Blog.
[Photo via Shutterstock]