The 5 Tenets To Mentoring Success

Nobody seems to like the term “coaching.” Everybody seems to prefer the term “mentoring.” What is the difference between coaching and mentoring? I’m so glad you asked! Let’s make this simple:

The primary goal of coaching is to improve us in our current role.

The primary goal of mentoring is to help us improve to prepare us for a future role. Mentoring can almost be seen as a lifeline for today’s millennial employees, since it helps individuals who are interested in the convergence of power, independence and growth.

Coaching may feel too corrective. Coaching may seem external, and mentoring feels like advice coming from someone who has been there. This is mostly because there seem to be as many bad examples of coaching as good examples. Mentoring comes across as more friendly, and that’s true too. Mentoring comes in different forms. It can be formal or informal and mentors are sometimes handpicked by you because you want to learn, or suggested by your boss. Regardless of how a mentorship opportunity comes up, there are 5 key tenets to a successful mentoring relationship.

1. Be involved in your mentor selection.

So your boss says you need a mentor, or perhaps you go to someone in power, or that you respect and ask if they can suggest a mentor. They may have great leads, suggestions, names and ideas of who can mentor you. However, in order to have a successful mentoring opportunity, it is critical that you connect with your mentor. So, if someone recommends a mentor for you, you need to do your own due diligence. Express clearly to your potential mentor the reasons why you need a mentor.

– What aspects of your work or thinking require counsel and advice?

– What are your personal or professional goals?

– What questions have you not asked your peers or boss that you’d like answered from a neutral party?

–  What tasks do you procrastinate in performing or conversations do you tend to put off that are hurting other people’s perception of you?

Look for someone you can trust. A mentor needs to be someone you can be vulnerable in front of, who you know can hold your confidences, and truly cares about your success!

2. Pick a mentor who likes to teach and will hold you accountable.

My first mentor knew a lot and he sure told me a lot but I didn’t learn much – not really. He was so excited about being ‘in-charge’ or ‘telling-me-stuff’ that I found he was not a good role model, nor a very good teacher. Actually I did learn through this experience; I learned what kind of mentor I didn’t want to be and what I wanted to be was a listener, a questioner, a builder and not an expert!

My best mentor kicked my butt! He told me when I screwed up, and when others were unsure how to approach me or less interested in me getting better. He was a great mentor and reminded me of an older brother. You know the one who will tell you when you are screwing up and not necessarily deliver the news with sensitivity, but because of great caring, they will let you know you screwed up clearly, candidly and sometimes coldly. The best mentors don’t sugarcoat your mistakes. Those sessions are the ones I remember and were able to bring changes in my behavior, because my visceral response to those mentoring sessions was so real!

3. Your mentor needs to be successful in the role or the goals you are pursuing.

Just because you like someone, trust her, or she holds you accountable, does not mean she will be a good mentor. If a mentor is going to help you to the promised land of your goals, she needs to have been there! That does not mean everyone who is a successful mentor has to have been the CEO. It just means that they need to know the skills you are trying to build. They need to know the ins and outs of that skills successes and pitfalls.

If someone is going to direct you on a hiking trail do you want the guide who has read the map or the guide who has been on that trail? Your guide doesn’t have to climb Mt. Everest when all you’re looking for is a good hiking boot, or if you are looking for good ways to get energy. Sometimes we simply need mentors to reinforce our ethics, values and the traits we hold most dear. These ethics and vales are the very things that get pulled apart by society’s expectations or our own ambitions.

“To be yourself in a world that is trying to make you something else, is the greatest measure of accomplishment”

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

4. Your mentor needs to be capable of becoming your advocate as you learn!

You have a mentor that creates an environment where you learn, build some new skills, and even get some praise from peers, teammates and supervisors. What happens next? Is your mentor well connected in your organization, industry or with leaders who can support your changes? Can your mentor “sell” your success? Will your mentor support you in the boardroom and be your advocate?

I knew a great woman who advocated with other women to have a mentor who was a man. The women felt that they needed a mentor who had a wealth of experience in the boardroom, and they felt that within their organization, most of the people shaping decisions about the business and their careers were men. They felt that as a woman, if their mentor was also a woman in this particular organization, that mentor would be unable to advocate their success because she was far away from the business leadership and boardroom. These are important considerations when you are choosing a mentor. The time and effort we spent shaping our behaviors, guided by our mentor, requires watering like a plant in a garden, for critical support as we grow.

5. Are you willing to pay it forward? Do you have a learning spirit?

Mentoring also differs from coaching in its greater value to us all. Truly a learning spirit is paramount to having mentoring ‘stick.’ True mentoring benefits the mentor as much as the mentee. I have mentored so many people, and I have gained equal or more value than they gained from each experience because I learned aspects of others’ development and communication that I had not seen previously. I carry that knowledge forward and it helps me in future sessions.

When an underprivileged child receives a gift from us that makes it their best Christmas ever, who gains more than they do? The Giver gains the chance to help someone. That is why mentoring has so much power versus coaching. Mentoring is seen as more valuable to our own desire to grow. If someone gives you the chance to be a mentor you’ll take the role not for money, rather for a chance to bring quality, integrity and caring to others. That’s a great place to be!!!!

Happy mentoring!


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