For those unfamiliar with mentoring, that can seem like an odd prospect. Who do you choose and what should you ask? According to mentoring expert Phil George, it needn't be daunting and it could provide just the career boost you need this New Year.
Central to that, said George, is uncovering the one common misconception about mentorship.
George, co-founder and CEO of mentoring software business MentorcliQ, said many people — himself once included — believe that your perfect mentor should be one individual who has overcome all the challenges you face and embodies everything you want to be.
But finding that one person may not be possible, he noted, and that can be disheartening. So instead you should think about it as finding "a board of advisors."
"You build this picture of someone who encapsulates everything you want and they can seem impossible to find," said George. "It's important to realize that it may not be one person who helps with everything, but a collection of different people with various insights."
Once you look at it that way, George said, it's far easier to compartmentalize your career aspirations and identify the person best qualified to assist with each. That could mean finding someone who has progressed from a similar background and another person who has the technical skills you admire.
Then it's simply a matter of being upfront with each of those "advisors" about the guidance you seek and how you think they can help. "If you can be clear about what you hope to achieve, I think mentors really appreciate that," said George.
"Sometimes there is too much vagueness," he continued, saying that employees need to structure mentoring like any other task. "Those looking for mentors need to sit down and really understand what they want to achieve, know what is standing in their way and look for ways to get past that."
The perceived importance of mentoring has been growing over recent years, buoyed by top executives such as Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and Alibaba co-founder Jack Ma, who regularly credit their mentors with helping shape their success.
And that perception is only set to grow in 2019, George said, adding that employers and employees — both mentees and mentors — see the value of such programs.
He said he expects that to play out in five major ways:
- Companies will evolve from providing a one-size-fits-all mentoring program to creating different networks for different needs. E.g. high achiever groups, women leadership schemes and veteran networks.
- Mentoring will become a business priority, especially for smaller companies, which are now seeing proof of the return on investment.
- Technology will be harnessed so mentorship programs can be rolled out on mobiles and tablets. That will create greater support for non-office-based workers and those in low-retention industries.
- Mentorship will form a crucial aspect of diversity and inclusion programs, allowing employees to share their experiences and what they learn.
- Informal mentorship programs will emerge between employees where structured schemes do not yet exist.
George said those trends will help make it easier for employees to find formal guidance programs. But, crucially, they will also enable more people to put themselves forward as mentors as another means of developing their careers.
Employers are starting to take more note when employees help raise up their colleagues, George said.
"Historically, mentoring was something that was pseudo-expected of employees but never really acknowledged," he said. "Now we're seeing companies measure it and take it into account in reviews, etc."
George noted, however, that those looking to take a leap from being mentee to mentor should be careful to do so gradually and they shouldn't bite off more than they can chew.
"Not everyone is good at being a mentor and not everyone likes doing it," said George. "Meanwhile, some people are really good at developing others."
"It's about knowing yourself individually and how much you can handle," he continued. George added that it can be useful to allocate time to such programs from the outset to avoid becoming overwhelmed. "Out of the gate, set it up as a regular fixture in your calendar, almost like exercise, and keep it to a strict time frame."
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