I’ve had several mentors over the years. In some cases, these folks probably didn’t even know they were mentoring me. As my career has progressed into Agile coaching and training, I’ve found myself, sometimes unwittingly and sometimes deliberately, acting as a mentor. As we learn new things and explore new fields of interest (like Agile methodologies), it’s natural to seek out someone who has been there, done that. So, if you’re looking for a mentor or seeking one, what should you look for?
The truly great mentors in my career (and life) have been experienced, empathetic listeners. Only after hearing me out and putting themselves in my shoes will they guide me. They have stories to tell (think Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom).
First off, you can have more than one mentor. And maybe you don’t even tag them with that moniker. That’s a lot of responsibility. Stop by their desk and ask them if they have a couple minutes for a quick chat on something perplexing or that you’d like to know more about. If they’re a good mentor, they’ll guide you, rather than answering all your questions directly. For it to truly stick, I find that I need to find the answers myself, not be spoon fed. It’s that very deliberate process of thinking things through that gets you to where you need to be.
Your relationship with a mentor should be a two-way street. The mentor needs to get something out of it as well. It’s not all about you all the time. Be sincerely interested in them. It’ll show and grow your bond with that person. At the end of the day, we’re all constantly learning from each other.
One final point… Oftentimes folks who think they’re being mentored are really being taught (e.g. here’s my problem; OK, here’s your answer/how to do it) or coached (a coach is someone who is hired, paid and given a specific task or goal to accomplish, like winning the Super Bowl). Recognize the difference and make sure you’re really seeking a mentor.
What are your thoughts and experiences with mentoring relationships?