Monday, 20 October 2014

Time to board the mentor ship

"Seek every ally you can find because success is rooted not only in performance but perception." - Innovating Women

Jelly beans have nothing to do with mentorship... but they are delicious!

Note: I am writing this from the perspective of a software developer, but this can be applied to other fields or situations as well.

WHAT? Mentorship? In the typical situation, a more senior or experienced professional will advise and mentor another less experienced professional. Ideally, there should be something you can learn from your mentor. I engage in technical discussions with my senior team members and learn technical skills from those around me, so I haven't relied much on my mentors for technical advice. This may differ for some people.

WHY? Why should you bother with mentorship? I can talk about my own experience of the tech industry and say that I would not be where I am today were it not for the mentors I had along the way. Not only were they able to provide insight from their own experiences, but they were able to give some perspective on some of the issues I have had to deal with in the tech industry. Also, alluding to the opening quote, mentors can be great advocates or allies.

WHEN? I believe we never stop learning and growing (unless we choose to stop, but c'mon, don't do that!). As such, it's always a good idea to have some form of mentorship at whatever rung on the career ladder. It's never too early to start looking for guidance from those with wisdom and experience.

WHERE? Mentors don't have to be physically located in the same place as you, but obviously it makes meeting up much easier if they are. At the same time, it also helps to have a mentor that you don't work with too closely on a day-to-day basis as it allows them to be a bit more objective and gives you a chance to speak more freely.

WHO? This one can be tricky. Some organisations don't recognise any requirement for mentorship while others encourage mentorship and might even assign mentors to individuals. It can be difficult to identify potential mentors. Take the time to get to know some senior professionals or people you look up to at work. I prefer to have mentor relationships evolve organically - when you turn to a certain colleague or professional for advice or input because you respect their opinion, it's mentorship. Even if it's not official.

HOW? Some of the best advice I was given by one of my former mentors is that the mentee should be driving the mentor relationship. It does not help me to show up to a mentorship session with an attitude of "well, what can you do for me?" or even worse, "Entertain me!" Rather, approach the person you would like to have as a mentor and be honest about what you would like from the mentorship - this also gives them a chance to decline if they aren't able to or think they can't be of help to you. This may be intimidating, but the worst they can say is no.

And this brings me to my last point: mentorships aren't for life. Sometimes the mentorship is terminated when employees leave, but you don't have to wait for that to happen. At any time either the mentee or mentor should be able to walk away if it's not working out. Just be honest with each other.

I believe everyone can benefit from mentorship and that we should be doing more to encourage industry newcomers to seek out mentors.

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