Identifying and working with a mentor
Mentoring is typically focused on the long-term and takes a broad view of the person. It involves an ‘independent, impartial confidante’ (not the mentee’s immediate manager) guiding and the mentee’s knowledge and career progression. It is a relationship based on trust and respect (and potentially opening doors to otherwise out-of-reach relationships and opportunities).
Mentoring can also involve early-in-career employees engaging with more experienced staff/leaders to share new knowledge and skills with senior employees. In addition to supporting the leader’s development, reverse mentoring (as this is known) can support the development of and maximise the value of less experienced team members by creating opportunities to expose both the mentor and the mentee to different ways of thinking, seeing and experiencing the world.
Sessions can be relatively informal and meetings can take place as and when the mentee needs some advice, guidance or support.
To be successful there needs to be a clarity of purpose and mechanisms to ensure it offers high value for the time involved for both the mentor and the mentee.
In order to find an appropriate mentor, work through the following steps:
- Clarify why you want to work with a mentor
Ask yourself what you are wanting to achieve by working with a mentor. Do you want to:
- create a supportive, intentional relationship based on mutual trust, respect and accountability so you can create a safe space to enhance your leadership effectiveness and achieve your career goals and aspirations?
- receive objective guidance and feedback based on someone else’s personal experience?
- facilitate reflective thinking?
- focus and take ownership of your personal growth and learning?
- Clarify the role you want your mentor to play
Ask yourself what you are seeking in a mentor. For example, are you looking for an advocate, or opportunity provider, an advisor, someone to challenge your thinking, someone who understands your cultural lens and can help you navigate, or a problem solver?
- Identify potential mentors
Think about leaders you have had contact with in the past and who you respect, including those who may have held senior positions in organisations you have worked in and/or who hold senior roles in agencies of a similar size and focus to your current agency.
In addition, you may find it useful to discuss your mentoring objectives with your manager and peers. Ask them who they feel would be suitable and why.
When identifying potential mentors, think broadly, including reflecting on what biases you might have about what an appropriate mentor looks and behaves like. Sometimes biases mean we can overlook or discount the people who would actually be the best person for the role. Remember also that your mentoring needs may change over time.
- Evaluate the mentor options you have generated
If you have a choice between potential mentors, the following questions may help you make a choice. Are they:
- experienced and competent in the field you will be seeking to learn more about?
- knowledgeable about how to get things done within the environment in which you are operating?
- For example, do they have the time available and will their involvement create any conflicts of interest that are difficult to manage?
- good communicators and able to understand the ideas and perspectives of others?
- likely to create a ‘climate’ that is safe for you to test your ideas and strategies?
- open to new ways of doing things and able to offer creative strategies for overcoming barrier you may encounter?
- Approach and gain the agreement of your top choice
Approach those who you believe meet your most important criteria and discuss your request with them. Be prepared to outline the benefits to them as well as the goals you want to achieve through the relationship.
- Agree with your mentor how you will work together
Once you have settled on your mentor, agree your objectives with them and decide how you will work together. How will you ‘play’ your respective parts in the relationship? We recommended you agree and record:
- your individual roles and responsibilities.
- how your progress will be monitored and reviewed.
- how boundaries will be managed if there is a shared community (i.e. if people have dual/multiple relationships)?timelines including the period over which the mentoring relationship will run.
- ground rules (e.g. confidentiality, what can and cannot be discussed, accessibility, etc).
- how the health of the relationship will be reviewed and monitored.
- Clarify why you want to work with a mentor