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When I was young in my career, I was fortunate enough to have some amazing mentors in my life.
These professionals who were only a few years ahead of me sowed into my development and helped to make me who I am today. I will be forever grateful for these selfless people in my life.
So what is a mentor?
We’ve all heard the term ‘mentor’ but what is a mentor?
Mentoring has been around for a long time, specifically in academic environments where teaching is a part of the business model.
For instance, in health care, a mentor will be assigned to a nurse or doctor in training to help them acclimate to the medical field.
According to dictionary.com a mentor is “
A mentor is someone who understands the work environment and offers advice to employees coming up the ladder.
Mentors offer guidance and words of wisdom on career advancement but have no reporting relationship.
Mentors are internal to the organization for many industries.
A trusted mentor understands the organization and serves as a guide to younger or less experienced employees, and helps them to advance in their careers within the organization or industry.
This is often done by teaching what I call the “unwritten rules” of an organization. Every organization and industry has these.
For instance, unwritten rules typically relate to the culture of the organization and are the expected behavioral norms.
Often there are tacit knowledge facts about an organization or industry that those who have been around for a while just know.
Much of this knowledge is based on the history of the organization and the evolution of things in the environment. This is valuable insight that can be lost when there is steady turnover.
Not everyone works for a big business or health care system. Some of us are entrepreneurs and need external mentors.
In the case of an entrepreneur, a mentor may be someone within the same industry who takes a younger professional under their wings and shows them the ropes.
For instance, young entrepreneurs may have strong networking skills and utilize those relationships to grow and mature in their profession.
8 Traits To Look For In A Mentor
1. Knows the Organization
A mentor is someone who has been around for a while and understands the organization inside and out.
They understand the organizational structure’s weaknesses and strengths and development process.
They know the pitfalls and how to avoid them.
For instance, there was an administrative assistant that worked for the CEO of a company I worked for. We all learned very quickly that developing a strong relationship with her was the key to access to the boss.
2. Knows the Industry
A mentor will know and understand the industry they are in.
They understand the history of the industry, how things got to be the way they are, and where the industry is going.
For instance, an industry expert will have knowledge and understanding of changing trends and be aware of developing technologies to address those needs.
Mentors like to predict where they see things going in the next few years and have opinions on their likes and dislikes of the way things are.
They have an unquenchable desire to keep on top of their industry.
3. Has No Ulterior Motives
A good mentor takes pleasure in developing others. They are not threatened by the mentee’s potential.
For instance, unprofessional experts fear that sharing what they know will threaten their position.
Mentors take pride in developing others and are not looking for anything in return – other than the pride that comes with watching someone’s professional development.
4. Diplomatically Honest
A good mentor is honest about the potential for development and advancement. They see things the way they are and are realistic.
They are comfortable sharing what they think is working as well as opportunities for change.
They see it as their responsibility to be honest – even when it may not be pleasant or easy.
5. Politically Savvy
Let’s face it; there are politics in every environment and at every level.
Good mentors are politically savvy and are aware of political “landmines” and how to avoid them.
They teach others how to maneuver successfully within the political environment.
Young professionals who don’t understand this can hit a political landmine and have it affect their career opportunities for sometimes years.
Don’t ever underestimate the power of politics – in any environment.
6. Have Time
A good mentor has time to spend mentoring. They are available for questions and can help their mentee over the hump in difficult situations.
For instance, a good mentor will have an open door policy for the person they are developing.
They enjoy spending time and just conversing about developmental topics.
7. Are Patient
It is easy to be impatient in the hustle and bustle of any work environment.
However, mentors are patient by nature.
They have been around a while, are well-oiled and seasoned, and know how to respond with patience and grace.
They don’t allow all of the noise in the room to trigger an emotional response.
8. Desire to Give Back
Most good mentors had a positive mentoring experience themselves and have a desire to give back to someone else.
They understand the advantages of being mentored and want to share that experience with others.
Structure Your Mentoring Program
Some organizations have structured mentoring programs.
This can be a very positive way to develop professionals as long as the mentors have the desire to mentor and exhibit the above traits.
I believe we all have the responsibility to give back to others what we have learned along the way.
This is how knowledge is transferred, and those behind us get developed.
I still remember my mentor. Her name is Antoinette Brooke.
She helped me climb the ladder out of the support realm into a leadership position. For that, I am forever grateful!
Who will you mentor today?