Photo credits: Christina@wocintechchat.com
I first came across this phrase from Sheryl Sandberg's book Lean In where she cautions women against asking someone to be their mentor no matter how admirable their careers or
personalities are. In her books she writes "Chasing or forcing that connection rarely works, and yet I see women attempt it all the time. When I give speeches or attend meetings, a startling number of women introduce themselves and, in the same breath, ask me to be their mentor.
I am a firm believer in mentorship so this school of thought came as a surprise to me. I thought all the professional growth advice I received always emphasized the importance of finding a mentor to hold your hand. Upon further reflection, I realised that it wasn't the mentorship that was a problem, but rather the approach and execution of forging a mentorship relationship.
Over the years I have had great mentorship relationships with people with whom the words
mentor-mentee were never used. I have come to understand why it's not about the formalities of a mentorship relationship but rather about defining a ‘what’ and being able to reach out to someone with relevant skills/passion or expertise to help you work through the ‘what’. This doesn’t however mean skipping the rapport-building step of seeking advice which is crucial for both people we know, and weak ties-people we know but don’t have a personal relationship with. Building an intent with these people can vary from case to case but these are some of the ways I have seen it work. “Hey, I greatly admire how you do Xyz and would love to learn from you." "I have this task I am working on and would like to learn 1,2 &3 from you on how you do it." "So and so is great at Xyz, I think you should reach out to them.
With this in mind, I have put together three myth debunkers for mentorship in the career setup.
1. A mentor should be ahead of you in your career
You can receive mentorship advice from anyone regardless of their years of experience or rank in an organization. As opposed to profiling what a good mentor is, focus on the areas of growth you are interested in and develop good questions to strike a conversation with someone who is passionate about that topic or has deep expertise in it. You will be surprised how much you can get from a peer in the same organisation or in a different organisation. When someone offers you their time, always show appreciation by thanking them for their time and honouring your commitments to them.
2. Mentees benefit more than mentors
Traditionally, mentees came with a pen and paper while the mentors shared tonnes of wisdom. However, having been on this journey, I have had several aha moments in discussions that I didn't originally think I'd have much to offer but ended up receiving applause for sharing my point of view. As opposed to thinking I have fewer years of experience in Xyz topic and therefore have little to offer, think about what you have observed, read, or even heard about the topic. This also makes doing your homework a big part of a mentorship discussion. Often times a "mentor" will share resources to read or watch before or after your conversation, it's always good practice to come back to them to reflect on what they shared. You also want to ensure that you reserve a conversation with them for what cannot be easily found through Google or some basic research.
3. There is a limit to the number of mentors one can have
When you focus more on getting a mentor rather than defining what advice or questions you
want to be answered, you put a limit to what you can receive. Oftentimes you'll find that tons of people are willing to help you in various areas of interest and each person will have a different point of view. This can be immediate friends, colleagues, bosses, or even weak ties such as LinkedIn networks. Keeping an open mind on what you want to achieve keeps you curious and learning
A good number of people have benefited from mentorship and are always willing to pay it forward.
Whatever skill you are trying to master whether it's a new subject matter or a role you are fitting into, there are many people out there who are willing to help, they just don’t wear a Mentor Hat. Do not be afraid of asking people to share with you some advice about something you are working on or are passionate about. Keep in mind that this being a favor you are asking from them, they have the discretion to say no. Thank them still. But more often than you may think, people are willing to say yes.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------This was written by Guest Writer, Catherine Wanja Gitau, currently leads
Capability Development and Brokering at ThinkPlace Kenya where she is working towards
creating an environment for leaders to create change in their
organisations by applying design thinking.
She is a lifelong learner, passionate about leadership. She