Mentoring can be a career- and life-changing experience...or it can feel like a bit of a let-down. So, what makes the difference? We asked mentees who have participated in formal mentoring programs to share their advice for how to make the most of mentoring and ensure that, not only is it time well spent, but that the investment pays off for years to come. Below are some of the tips they shared along with some ideas for how to apply them. You get out of it what you put into it. Perhaps it should go without saying, but you have to invest the effort if you want to see results. Most people who sign up for mentoring are hoping to improve or advance in some way, so it makes sense to bring your best self to the experience. Come to the mentoring program committed and willing to work and dedicate time, energy, and focus to mentoring. From there, it’s a matter of being involved. Aside from the opportunity to connect with a formal mentor (and perhaps a situational mentor, too), the mentoring program offers trainings, events, tools, and resources—take advantage of as many as you can. Attend the group events and engage fully with others in the cohort. Navigate The Mentoring Connection to mine the on-line resources of newsletters, discussion guides, and other valuable resources. Act on recommendations from your mentor and follow up through on the goals you set for yourself. Take the lead. One of the biggest mistakes a mentee can make is to sit back and wait to be mentored. The mentoring program is designed to be mentee-driven, so take those reins! Schedule meetings, reach out often, identify discussion topics for mentoring meetings and come prepared with questions or specific challenges to discuss. Be clear about what you’re hoping to gain from the program and how you hope your mentor can help. Moreover, if you want your mentor to do something differently, tell them! Mentees sometimes wait until they are taking a survey at the mid-point or the end of the program to talk about the things they would have liked to do differently in their mentoring partnership. Be proactive and assertive in communicating your mentoring needs. Make connections. Among the greatest strengths of a mentoring program is its ability to connect employees from across an organization who probably would not normally cross paths or interact. Mentoring programs are full of opportunities to expand your professional network, from building rapport with your mentor and seeking out situational mentors to participating in breakout groups at formal trainings, volunteering for groups or activities as part of your mentoring work or attending program mixers or lunch-and-learn sessions. Make time to engage in these opportunities, and don’t be afraid to suggest and/or volunteer to organize an event. Mentoring programs offer a great way to meet people from other parts of your agency and connect right away over the shared focus of mentoring. Be open, be honest. Mentoring work requires openness and honesty from both parties. Having an open mind, being open to feedback, and openly sharing your goals, challenges, questions, and concerns is key to receiving honest and helpful feedback and advice from your mentor. Don’t be afraid to open up to your mentor—the better they get to know you, the more they learn about you, the more they can help. Equally as important to being open and honest with your partner, however, is being open and honest with yourself. We all have strengths and weaknesses. Professional growth happens when we learn how to capitalize on our strengths and take steps to grow in those areas of opportunity. Be willing to look within—or perhaps even ask for feedback from others—to identify where you are strong and where you have room to grow. Talk to your supervisor. Supervisors can make a huge difference in your mentoring experience—but only if they know what you’re doing. Achieving career goals or working through professional challenges generally requires building and honing specific technical or interpersonal skills. Mentees can talk with their supervisors about the skills they’re building even if they don’t feel comfortable sharing their overarching goals or challenges. Sharing some aspect of your program work is important because it enables supervisors to recognize opportunities that may help you apply those skills on the job, share ideas and insights, and observe your gains and successes. Apply what you’re learning. Applying what you’ve learned and practicing new technical and interpersonal skills on the job is beneficial for several reasons. For one, it helps cement new skills and allows the mentee to tailor what they’ve learned to be relevant and useful in their current role. However, it also demonstrates a willingness to learn and a commitment to professional growth and development, showing supervisors that the mentee has the initiative, drive, and discipline to lead themselves and others. Ask a Mentor Here are some questions mentoring pairs can discuss to ensure a well-rounded mentoring experience. Where do you think I could invest more effort to achieve greater gains and success? How could I be more proactive to take the lead in our partnership? What opportunities are available to make new connections and expand my network? What are some ways I could loop my supervisor into the process to give them visibility and seek their feedback? How can I apply what I’m working on in the program to my current role?
When asked to share what they gained from a mentoring experience, mentees often point to the clarity they gained on their career path and, most importantly, their goals. Establishing the mentee’s goals should be among the first steps in any mentoring partnership, and the importance of this step cannot be overstated. After all, as Emmy award winning designer and Chief Executive Officer Chris Do says, “Clear goals, clear results. Fuzzy goals, fuzzy results.” Mentoring without established goals is like driving without directions. In the best-case scenario, the mentoring partners might enjoy the ride, but they likely won’t arrive at either partner’s intended destination. Worst-case scenario, they’ll wander aimlessly without purpose, growing anxious and frustrated, squandering the opportunity for an impactful experience, and perhaps even feeling that mentoring is burdensome in their already overloaded schedules. Having a clear understanding of what the mentee hopes to get from the mentor and from their mentoring experience is critical to setting off in the right direction and staying on course. Here are some things mentoring pairs can do to clarify the mentee’s goals and lay the foundation for well-managed expectations, targeted mentoring work, and, ultimately, a successful partnership. Define the mentee’s priorities. Early mentoring discussions should include asking the mentee to explain what is most important to them—not just where they see themselves in five years, but why. Some mentees may not have a vision for their future but may easily be able to list the things that matter most to them, such as having flexibility and work-life balance, feeling like they are making an important contribution to their work, or earning a certain salary range. Others, meanwhile, may rattle off a list of goals but may struggle to explain how those align with their priorities. They may think they know what they want only to discover they are responding to the priorities other people have set for them rather than priorities they’ve set for themselves. Regardless of where the mentee is, a mentor can help them dig deeper into what truly drives them by asking them to name their values; write down what they would like to maintain, improve, and change in their work and personal lives; define their strengths and what energizes them; make a “to don’t” list that helps them clarify what they don’t want (which is also important to understand); or apply the Toyota “5 Whys” process to their stated goals or priorities to understand the root driver beneath them. Refine the mentee’s goals to align with their priorities. One of a mentor’s key roles is to help their mentee confirm that they are moving in the right professional direction. Once the mentor understands the values that motivate the mentee, they can help set or refine goals that align with those priorities. For example, a mentee may have come to the partnership with the goal of achieving a position that seemed like an obvious end-goal but discovered through early mentoring conversations about their drivers that the tasks and responsibilities of that job don’t match their values, strengths, or passions. Once the partners confirm that the mentee’s goals align with their priorities, they should also confirm that the goals align with reality—does the mentee really have the time and resources to meet the goal? Are they willing to sacrifice the time and effort required to achieve it? Would that sacrifice be worth it to them? What are the benchmarks for success? Realistic timelines? Outline specific steps to achieving the mentee’s goals. By this point, the mentee should have a clear (or at least clearer) picture of what is important to them and goals that reflect what matters most. Now it’s time to map out the path to success. Mentoring pairs can define actionable steps to achieving each stated goal. Here again, the mentor plays an important role. In the first two steps, the mentor has primarily asked thought-provoking questions designed to help the mentee arrive at their own conclusions. When it comes to career-mapping, however, mentors can offer insights and advice that the mentee may not have considered or known on their own. Mentors can help the mentee break their goals down into smaller “sub-goals,” lay out a checklist and schedule for achieving them and prepare for the pitfalls and challenges they are likely to encounter. Identify mentoring activities geared toward the mentee’s goals. Now that the mentee and the mentor both have a clear picture of the mentee’s priorities, short- and long-term goals, and their plan to achieve them, it will be much easier to identify how the mentor can help. With the end in mind, the partnership can focus on a mentoring strategy or action plan. For example, establishing strategic connections, taking on stretch assignments or applying for opportunities that will help them start building the experience they’ll need. This is also a great time to identify a situational mentor to set up a shadowing experience or work on a specific skill or project.
Most of us can look back on our careers and think of at least one person who took the time and energy to provide mentorship, guidance, and a listening ear. And when we think back on those mentors, we likely don’t reflect on the projects they led or the awards they won, but rather the difference they made in our lives, both as professionals and as people. Mentoring is usually a powerful and lasting experience for both the mentoree and the mentor, but mentoring is bigger than two people and the finite period of time they work together. It has the potential to become a legacy—a legacy of people investing in people and paying forward the investment that others have made in them. Each of us is part of a larger team, group, and community, and we all—mentorees and mentors alike—have the opportunity to take what we learn from each other and amplify it. When we remember the times, we have been helped, it can motivate us to help find ways to help others and enhance their lives in ways big and small, creating a powerful butterfly effect in which helping one person indirectly helps dozens, maybe even hundreds, of others. So, what does paying it forward look like, and how can anyone from a fresh out of college new hire to the seasoned veteran nearing retirement carry on the mentoring legacy? Here are some ideas. Seek and apply advice—and tell the advisor how it went. People love to give advice, and it’s even better when someone asks for it. This may seem like a small thing, but in day-to-day life, many of us are less likely to seek others’ advice compared to when we are in a mentoring environment. Looking for opportunities to ask others for feedback or guidance will not only benefit you but will signal to them that you recognize their knowledge and experience and value their opinion. Even better, try their advice and follow up to let them know how it went. Not only will you make them feel appreciated, you might inspire them to do the same. Thank your mentor. Mentors are hard-working heroes. On top of their day jobs, personal commitments, and challenges of their own, they make time to mentor and develop employees who often do not even work for them or directly impact their day-to-day work. They are motivated solely by the desire to help someone else by sharing what they’ve learned. Say thank you often and show your appreciation by communicating the difference your mentor has made in your life. This simple act will show them the powerful impact they have and inspire them to continue mentoring and influencing others. Share what you’ve learned. One of the great things about mentoring is that it is a tailored, individual experience, which means that everyone is going to learn something different. Don’t keep that knowledge to yourself! Look for opportunities to pay it forward by sharing what you’ve learned in your mentoring work, whether it’s passing on your mentor’s helpful tips to a friend or colleague facing similar challenges, giving your team a class on a program you gained proficiency in, or maybe just openly practicing your new skills in your day-to-day job to help make your team more successful. Chances are, if something you learned from your mentor helped you, it will probably help someone else, too. Be generous with your gains and look for ways to share them with others. Mentor someone else. For mentorees in a formal mentoring relationship, this is an obvious next step and one they feel confident taking. For others, it may seem far-fetched. But the truth is, even if you are brand new to the workforce or your agency, even if you’ve never been a supervisor, even if you are not yet an expert in your field, there is a mentor in all of us. Seasoned employees can help guide the next generation of leaders; meanwhile, junior employees who are still getting their footing in their careers, can find plenty of opportunities to mentor someone else through community programs and other opportunities outside of work. We all have something to offer and something to teach.
As with any relationship, from time to time, mentoring partnerships can snag, stagnate, or outright stall. Changes in schedule, workload, or circumstances can make it difficult to connect. Or partners may find that they underestimated what would be required as a mentor or a mentee and feel overwhelmed. Other times, pairs find that their personalities or communication styles just don’t seem to mesh. Whatever the reason, most partnerships can course-correct if both parties are willing to work together. Below are some simple steps that can help a struggling partnership get back on track. Look in the mirror. Before you give up on your partner or call them out for what you think they could do better, pause to reflect on how you have shown up in the relationship. Are you proactive and engaged? Are you open and candid, and do you clearly communicate your needs and expectations? Just as important, are those expectations realistic? Unrealistic expectations on either side of a partnership can be detrimental. For mentors, unrealistic expectations can lead to overloading the mentee with suggestions and information, pushing them to take on more than they can realistically manage, or pressuring them to make decisions the mentor thinks are best. Likewise, a mentee who expects the mentor to steer the mentoring experience or provide more support than is reasonable can also hinder the relationship. And perhaps the most unrealistic expectation of all for either partner is assuming that the other half of their mentoring pair would (or should) sense they are unhappy and understand why. Acknowledge the issues openly. For most pairs, the mentoring experience can easily and effectively be “fixed” simply by addressing the issue. If there is something your partner is or isn’t doing that is frustrating you, the most important thing you can do is talk to them about it. They may have no idea that something is amiss, or if they do, they may not be able to pinpoint the problem. Either way, if you don’t clearly communicate what you would like to change, your partner will not have the opportunity to correct it and you will likely continue to feel frustrated or, worse, resentful. While the thought of having such a conversation with your partner might seem intimidating, take a step back and look at it as a chance to practice engaging in a difficult conversation. If nothing else, carefully plan out what you would like to say, including specific examples of what you would like to change and ideas for a way forward. Schedule a time to speak (not e-mail) with your partner when you will have adequate time, energy, and attention to fully discuss the matter. Go back to the Mentoring Agreement. A great place to start in recalibrating the way you and your partner work together is the Mentoring Agreement, which documents the goals and expectations that you set at the beginning of your partnership. Identify areas you can adjust or revise if the initial plan is not meeting your needs. Revisit the mentee’s stated goals, needs, and aspirations. Identify what progress has been made, and list out clear, actionable steps that each party can take to push further toward those goals. For example, if the mentee hoped to increase their network, the mentor might share a list of potential situational mentors the mentee could reach out to, invite the mentee to attend a business meeting, or share details for networking events in the area that the mentee might find useful. Meanwhile, the mentee could ask the mentor to help them plan and/or practice what they would say in an interview meeting, facilitate an introduction with a potential situational mentor, or read and discuss a book on networking as part of their mentoring activities. Outlining steps that each partner can take and ensuring that these steps are specific, clear, and achievable could plot the roadmap for partnership success. Revisit the DISC assessment. While you are revisiting documents, set aside time to refresh on the DISC assessment results you each received at the beginning of the program. Even if you get along great, brushing up on each other’s DISC styles can be a helpful reminder of how your partner functions at their best and in times of stress and how best and most effectively to communicate with them. Check in and reevaluate. Once you’ve had that initial difficult conversation to identify the issues you would like to address, be intentional about checking in with your partner to gauge whether the adjustments you’ve made have been effective for both parties and make additional tweaks as necessary. Reach out to the Mentoring Program Coordinator. Sometimes, partners may need some outside assistance to get back on track, and in rare instances, it may be clear to both parties that their partnership will not work out for reasons such as a lack of commitment from one of the partners, serious personality conflicts, or a breach of trust or confidentiality. In such instances, one or both partners should reach out to the Mentoring Program Coordinator to either seek their assistance in helping the pair reconnect or, if there is no hope that the match can work, determine the best course of action for both partners.
What does it take to be an effective mentoree? Yes, you read that right. This article is about the work of being mentored. Being mentored sounds passive, but effective mentorees aren’t waiting to be transformed. They are actively engaged and working in their mentoring experience. Mentorees will often hear that they should “drive the mentoring relationship.” Taking initiative, being prepared, acting on suggestions, and following up are obvious ways to take the wheel. However, there are more subtle behaviors that can make a mentoree more effective in their mentoring work. Below are some ways to take your mentoree role to the next level. Know your “why.” Many mentorees come to the mentoring relationships with a list of short- and long-term goals to work toward but may have spent less time evaluating their underlying motives. Improving your communications skills is a specific, achievable goal, but understanding what you hope to gain from doing so creates a different level of intention and opportunity for growth. Do you want to become a better communicator because you hope to become more persuasive, expand your influence, form connections, or strengthen relationships? If you are still unsure what you would like to accomplish in the mentoring program, take a moment to envision where (or who) you would like to be in three to five years. Ask yourself what it is about that future version of yourself that appeals to you—are you more successful, more confident, more influential? Understanding what is driving you will help you figure out what to focus on and how to steer your mentoring experience. Communicate your needs. Once you pinpoint your underlying drivers, the next step is to communicate them clearly to your mentor. Be specific about what you want to achieve and how you would like your mentor to help. If all you know is that you want to be more successful or feel more accomplished, don’t be afraid to ask your mentor to help you figure out what that means and where to start. Establishing what you hope to gain provides a starting point to help you and your mentor chart different potential paths. The more you clarify your goals and communicate your needs, the more effective your mentor (and you) can be. Ask questions. Effective mentorees ask questions—and thoughtfully consider the answers. Ask your mentor questions about business processes or skills you want to master, challenges you want to overcome, experiences you want to gain. Ask them questions even when the answer seems obvious or when you already have an idea or set view of things. Asking questions opens the door for new ideas and perspectives, which is a good thing when you are looking to develop and grow. The mentoring relationship provides a safe space. Take advantage of that open forum and unfettered access to the views of a seasoned, experienced mentor. Welcome and accept feedback. Being an effective recipient of feedback is key to being an effective mentoree. In fact, the ability to receive—and actively seek—feedback is key to being successful in any role. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to accept feedback that is less than a raving endorsement of how we would like others to see us. Even when we ask for it, constructive criticism can generate internal resistance that leads us to push the feedback away. In their book “Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well,” authors Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen urge readers to focus on cultivating a “pull attitude” toward feedback. They write, “Creating pull is about mastering the skills required to drive our own learning; it’s about how to recognize and manage our resistance, how to engage in feedback conversations with confidence and curiosity….” Ask for your mentor’s feedback and be ready to consider it fully—what makes sense about it, what seems worth trying, what might they be right about, how could you apply it? If you struggle to accept feedback despite your best efforts, this may be an important area to focus on during the program. “Thanks for the Feedback” and other books on the topic can be a great starting point for mentoring conversations and work around this crucial skill. Be grateful. Countless studies have shown that gratitude can change our brains, our lives, and our very selves. Showing appreciation can lead to deeper connections, increase prosocial behavior, improve self-esteem, and enhance mental strength. These gains align with successful, effective mentoring. We all have the capacity to cultivate gratitude and focus on what we already have, not just what we are striving for. Be grateful for your mentor’s time, advice, feedback, and suggestions. Be grateful for stretch assignments and networking opportunities. Be grateful for mistakes that enable learning, challenges that facilitate growth, and the achievement of goals, big and small. In each mentoring activity, look for opportunities to feel gratitude and express appreciation.
Kathy Wentworth Drahosz traveled to Orlando this week to kick off a formal mentoring training session for the University of Central Florida’s (UCF) Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) Mentoring Program! The WISE mentoring program matches successful professional women in STEM related positions with young women in their sophomore and/or junior year at UCF. Due to the pandemic, last year’s program was all virtual, this year we were able to facilitate a hybrid program (both live and virtual). “The use of technology has been a game changer the past 18 months”, comments Drahosz, “partnerships who may not have had an opportunity to meet face to face, were able to enjoy connecting through Zoom. Mentors from government and industry (Johnson and Johnson, Duke Energy, Blue Origin, Naval Air Warfare Center, Lockheed Martin, and more) signed up to help the students this year. The sophomore and junior year can be challenging for some students. “It’s always wonderful to see our industry and government partners take such interest in growing our future STEM women leaders”, said Melissa Dagley, Executive Director, Initiatives in STEM.
People often ask us- “how do I choose the best mentor for me?” This question is broad, but understandable. There are multiple metrics that contribute to a successful partnership. Experience is important, but is it more helpful to have years of experience or a certain type? Maybe it’s easiest to collaborate with a colleague who shares a similar communication style, but would it make a bigger impact to absorb attributes from someone who operates a little differently?Set developmental goalsThe best way to get started is by setting your developmental goals. Jot down some notes:What are your career aspirations?Where do you want to be in five years?What will it take to get there?Pull your story together as a pitch that you can lay out quickly. For example, “I would eventually like to be a supervisory IT specialist, so I am working toward a technical detail. I enrolled in this program to hone new technical skills that will help me get there.”Identify your ideal mentorThink about the capabilities or functional background your mentor should possess. Consider whether you are looking to stay in your area or bridge into a new career field. Weigh the merits of seeking specialized experience versus a rich and varied organizational background. Forbes Magazine (https://www.forbes.com/.../4-things-to-look-for-in-a.../...) pointed out that it doesn’t always matter how many years of experience they have, its more about whether their knowledge and expertise is going to be helpful to you in the job you’re doing or the job you hope to get. Identify a mentor who will push you outside of your comfort zone and who is willing to give honest, candid feedback.Create a list of potential mentorsOnce you’ve prepared your pitch and identified the characteristics of your ideal mentor, create a list of potential candidates. Research your candidates’ backgrounds. You might even solicit advice from an outside source like your supervisor or people in your professional network. Try to collect information from articles the mentor may have written or explore their contributions to highly visible projects. NPR https://www.npr.org/.../how-to-find-a-mentor-and-make-it... reminds mentees to “recognize the difference between a mentor and a sponsor.” The purpose of a mentor is to give you guidance and impart their own experience, not to get you a promotion or a raise.Arrange Meetings with your Top Two or Three ChoicesOrganize a list of five potential mentors and arrange meetings with your top two or three choices. The purpose of these meetings is to explore the possibility of establishing a partnership. When speaking with each candidate, find out as much as you can about their accomplishments and character. Partnering with someone who shares some personal commonalities- such as charity work or raising children- can make relationship-building easier too.Ask guided questions about the mentor’s background such as:How did you get to where you are today?What factors and skills have made a difference in your career?What have you found to be the secrets to your success in this organization?Then be prepared to share some information about your background, accomplishments, and areas in need of improvement. Be honest and forthcoming as a good mentor will also be evaluating you to see if the match will reap worthwhile benefits.Prepare as if you were going to a job interview. Lean in and give it your all. Be warm and enthusiastic so that the mentor has an idea of what it would be like to work with you.Prepare for “The Close” with Your Elevator SpeechAn advantage of using an elevator pitch when speaking about your career or aspirations is that you can show you are capable of taking the lead. Instead of waiting on the other party to direct the conversation, and potentially away from what you would like to discuss, you can assertively explain what you need and have to offer.Communicate your interests in being mentored by this person.Share your expectations of the mentoring partnership.Estimate how much time you plan to commit to the partnership.Explain why their talents suit your developmental needs.Once you have narrowed down your mentoring choice, e-mail a message to the mentor expressing (or reaffirming) your interest. Be prepared for the possibility that your potential mentor will not be able to accept so that you can respond with grace and professionalism despite the initial disappointment. Likewise, if you find after speaking that the mentor is not right for you, be prepared to communicate that directly and respectfully.Identifying and selecting the right mentor is both critical to the success of the mentoring partnership and a challenging task. Doing your homework ahead of time will ensure the process moves smoothly for you.
In these unprecedented times, mentors have made the difference! They have provided a sense of stability, connection and support. In honor of National Mentoring Month, take a moment to thank a mentor who has made a difference in your life.
In a formal mentoring program, facilitators invest heavily in pairing mentors and mentees. They sort through demographics such as communication style, career trajectory, and experience. They analyze requests and preferences, aiming to create a mutually beneficial experience for both participants. This involved process is critical when planning successful partnerships that will meet the goals outlined in a prescribed program. There is another type of mentoring, however, that is less reliant on a well-engineered matching system. In this month’s newsletter, we will talk about soaking up mentors using daily interactions with colleagues, organizational leaders, or anyone that you find inspiring. In other words, we want to encourage taking on mentors who don’t exactly know that they’re mentoring you. Soaking up a mentor might mean, actively noting the way a well-respected colleague handles an ongoing prickly relationship or observing how a productive supervisor manages their calendar. Every day we are connecting with people on conference calls and email chains who are setting an example of what to do or what not to do in any given situation. Mentors are all around- it’s up to you to take the opportunity to learn from them. Know what you are searching Make a list of immediate needs and long-term goals. Where are your trouble spots? Perhaps your two-year plan is to reach a specific grade-level but you need to get your name out there to even be in consideration for promotion. Maybe you’re struggling to carve a line between professional expectations and personal obligations and looking for clarity on fitting in everything. It could be that the emails you thoughtfully compose are not getting quick responses, leaving you with the sense that the way you make requests isn’t effective. Zeroing in on what you need to do better will ensure that you pick up on the right things when observing others. Take notes and flag examples so that you can refer back to them. Create opportunities to learn Look for relatable learning opportunities. As leadership author Dan Black explains, “It’s all about being observant, which requires having attentive eyes and ears.” Wherever you are, take the time to actively engage, especially if there is someone in the room who you’ve identified as an informal mentor. Raise your hand and get involved in the conversation. Asking questions demonstrates focus and attention, a desire to dig beneath the surface, solve the problem, learn the skill. Asking questions ensures understanding and demonstrates a hunger for learning. Some tips for asking good questions include: Have a general idea ahead of time about the kind of information you seek. If joining a meeting, read ahead to know what is going to be discussed and what areas might need more explaining. Questions should be targeted and meaningful. Show openness when looking for details and try to keep preconceived opinions to yourself. Instead of “I really can’t figure out this weird system and wanted to ask….”, you might say, “What have you heard people love best about this system?” Only ask one-part questions. Overpacking will make it hard for the respondent to offer a clear answer. Leave your comfort zone Don’t be afraid to share your ideas when collaborating with someone you admire, especially colleagues with more seniority. Seek opportunities to talk about the way you have approached a problem and muse about potential strategies. It’s okay to make mistakes when trying to explain. People who know the issue better will jump in with workarounds or additional problem-solving. Consider it free feedback. Be curious Psychology Today explains curiosity as “a combination of intelligence, persistence, and hunger for novelty.” Curiosity adds zest. Cultivate your curiosity about things like leadership and industry knowledge by looking to mentors outside of the office. You might follow a writer on LinkedIn, subscribe to a notable speaker’s weekly podcast, or peruse an industry leader’s Instagram account. Read their biographies and research how they came to acquire their expertise. When they share articles on the topics that interest you, drill deeper to see what sources they have linked or referenced and read those sources for more information and context. Even look to motivational speakers or bestselling authors who demonstrate strong character and an energy that speaks to you. Curate a file of links and snapshots of posts by these lofty mentors so that you can look to them for broad inspiration. Stay curious and keep seeking knowledge. Mentoring is an important contributor to a successful and satisfying career. Joining a formal mentoring program shows your ambition and drive but don’t forget to soak up the mentors who are in your life each and every day. Make an effort to learn from them and follow their wisdom.
When our son decided he wanted to become the goalie for his lacrosse team, my husband and I were thrilled that he’d set such a challenging goal for himself. We supported him, encouraged him, and believed he could do it . . . but we also knew he would need more than our cheerleading to achieve his goal. He needed someone with knowledge and experience to help him develop the skills and technique that we couldn’t teach. He needed a coach—a situational mentor. This scenario is every bit as common in professional mentoring relationships as it is in parenting. Mentors often encounter opportunities to help their mentees grow and develop by enlisting the help of other colleagues or leaders in the organization. In fact, in many formal mentoring programs, identifying and recommending situational mentors is an encouraged or required part of the program. A situational mentor is a subject matter expert who can offer knowledge related to a specific task, skill, or topic. This type of mentoring relationship is generally a short-term partnership that focuses on achieving a particular purpose or goal. Partnering with a situational mentor supplements an established mentoring program or relationship, and allows the mentee to gain a new skill, perspective, or relationship. There are different types of situational mentoring that mentors can recommend. Here are a few examples. Job shadowing. Shadowing involves observing another employee at work for a set period (from a few hours to a few days) to gain a better understanding of how that employee performs a specific task or process. People often think of shadowing as an opportunity to spend the day with a senior leader or attend a high-level meeting with a manager, but shadowing can be done with any employee at any level for any task. For example, in one agency where report writing is a critical focus area, employees can sign up to shadow editors or statisticians while they review reports, or to attend another team’s in-process review to take notes on the types of questions and feedback the team receives. Observing these activities without being directly involved in them allows employees to filter the experience through a different lens and gain valuable insight that they can apply to their own reports. Setting up a similar experience for a mentee is as simple as identifying the activity the mentee would like to shadow, what they hope to learn from the experience, and the right person to ask. Informational Interviews. Interviews are great for mentees who have questions about a concept or program, or who are seeking career advice from people who have already accomplished objectives they hope to achieve. When I was a mentee in a formal program, a few of my mentoring colleagues met with a successful female executive from another agency. The executive shared her professional story, detailing how she rose through the ranks and learned along the way. Meanwhile, my colleagues and I were able to ask questions and solicit her advice. This type of situational mentorship can also be helpful for a mentee considering a significant job change. Connecting with a professional in the field or position they are considering could help answer their questions and identify issues or considerations they weren’t aware of. Project-based. Project-based mentoring involves soliciting technical expertise from a subject matter expert to help a mentee complete a project, or to provide feedback on a project the mentee has completed independently. This type of situational mentoring can be longer lasting and more in-depth depending on the breadth and scope of the project. For example, when one mentee was tasked to help present a briefing to the head of the agency, her mentor recommended that she meet with a situational mentor to help her prepare. The mentee met with her situational mentor several times in the weeks leading up to the briefing. The situational mentor listened to the information she needed to present, helped her organize an effective slide presentation, hosted “dry runs” to let her rehearse her section of the presentation, and provided her valuable feedback and advice based on his experience regularly briefing the agency head. With so many of us working remotely and socially isolating, you may be tempted to postpone recommending or facilitating a situational mentor until things are “back to normal.” But now could actually be a great time to consider your mentee’s goals and objectives and evaluate where in their mentoring plan a situational mentor could add value. The same applications that allow us to attend meetings online can enable mentees to meet situational mentors virtually—mentees may even be able to shadow through screen sharing! And with the delay or cancellation of so many meetings, conferences, trainings, and extracurricular activities, mentees and potential situational mentors might find it easier to schedule a time to meet. These examples highlight how situational mentors can enhance a mentee’s growth and development. Situational mentors don’t replace a formal mentor, but they can add an element of diversity, dimension, and a different perspective—hallmarks of an effective mentoring experience. In any event, to stay engaged and maximize the benefits of a situational mentoring experience, be sure to follow up with the mentee to discuss what they learned from the experience and how they can apply—and share—the new knowledge or skills that they gained.