Finding, Cultivating, and Using Mentors
The Student Energy Leaders Fellowship is your opportunity to build your skills in establishing relationships with generous and accomplished mentors, including peer-mentors! It takes time and practice in building your mentor-mentee relationship skills in the context of professional development, just like any other social skills; these are important skills because one’s studies and career can be heavily influenced by their access to relevant and engaged mentors. Getting the most out of a mentorship relationship, though, is just as determined by your involvement and inputs as a mentee as it is your mentors’.
Understanding Reciprocal Mentorship Relationships
“I was taught by an Anishinaabekwe Elder early in my university career that when networking and approaching mentors to always ask ‘what can I do for you?’ This approach fosters genuine and reciprocal mentoring relationships, because in my culture and many Indigenous cultures youth are valued as sources of knowledge. This approach is also aligned with the idea that we should give as we are given. ” - Larissa Crawford, Founder, Future Ancestors Services
There are many visions of what a mentorship relationship should look like; in some instances, a mentor-mentee relationship can take the shape of a formal structured program, in others it can come from a supervisor-student context, and in others it can be a grandparent passing down traditional knowledge to their family.
Career mentoring is a vision of mentoring that refers to a process for the informal transfer of knowledge, social capital, and support perceived by the mentee as relevant to work, career, or professional development.
Psychosocial mentoring refers to the specific aspects of the relationship that enhance an individual’s sense of competence, identity, and effectiveness in a professional role. Cross-cultural studies have demonstrated that psychosocial mentoring yields positive results, particularly in improving career resiliency – the ability to adapt to changes even in a disruptive environment – and increasing career satisfaction.
In professional mentoring relationships, you can seek to enhance your sense of competence, identity, and effectiveness in a professional role. A mentor doesn’t have to be someone working in your field, a certain age or have a certain job title. The purpose of a mentor can be to support you in building character, gaining self-awareness, increasing your goal focus, maximizing your potential, and building and expanding your network. Your mentor can offer you wisdom and advice based on their experiences; that being said, your mentor should be someone that you aspire to be like and not just someone with a career that you desire.
In whatever context that you find yourself in a mentor relationship, you have the opportunity to be authentic and to give back to your mentor. By being authentic, we mean acknowledging your struggles, weaknesses, and concerns; transparency is one of the first steps to building trust and authenticity between you and your mentor. Giving back could look like volunteering your time on one of their projects, or acknowledging them in an interview or speech, or directing potential clients to their services. As upcoming leaders with a wealth of knowledge and expertise, you too hold valuable experience that can serve your mentor. You should recognize that your opportunity to give back may not be immediate, but your eventual efforts and offers will contribute to an authentic relationship with your mentor.
Two-Way Learning: Mentorship Across Cultures
Two-way learning is an Australian Indigenous approach to mentorship that centres cross-cultural relationships with people who are Indigenous and people who are non-Indigenous, and that seeks to foster “non-hierarchical interplay between academic, practitioner, and community expertise.”
“Defined by Purdie et al. (2011), two-way or both-way learning infers “a partnership relationship between First Peoples and Settler cultures in Australia...a negotiated space....‘third space’, to imply that, like the cultural literal zone where land and sea meet.......it is dynamic and fluid, like that of a coast line.” The “two ways” implied by the two-way mentoring … is a tentative space where Indigenous Relational Standpoint and the White normative standpoint can co-exist. In recognizing our worldviews or standpoints, we reflect on the fact that “our perspectives are constructed within intersections of multiple positions in power relations” (Zipin et al., 2015, p.15). The two-way mentoring we advocate must be constantly negotiated as a new way of working.”
You can read more about two-way learning in the full research paper, Mentoring as Two-Way Learning: An Australian First Nations/Non-indigenous Collaboration. Having diverse mentors who can speak to cultural competency in the context of your work are equally as important as the technical and career-focused mentors.
Why It’s Important
As you go through the Leaders Fellowship it may be the right time for you to consider finding a mentor. As you navigate the program and are exposed to new career pathways, you may want to talk to someone about your future.
Additionally, this program is connecting you with accomplished future and present energy leaders from around the world. This is a great opportunity to practice and explore your mentee and mentor skills through peer-mentorship. Peer mentors are close in age to their mentees and the focus of mentoring is on building a relationship. By carving out time with some of your co-fellows via webcam or in-person, you can get the most out of this program.
Putting a Reciprocal Mentorship Relationship Into Action
- Identify who you would want as a mentor: Some mentorship relationships may arise organically, and for some mentorship relationships you may pursue more intentionally. Approaching someone already in your network to be a mentor tends to be a smoother process, but it may be worth reaching out to someone you haven’t met yet whom you admire. When searching for a mentor, consider what the person values, how they act on those values and the experiences that they have.
You should have multiple people in mind as potential mentors; it’s important to find someone that you admire, but it’s equally important to make sure it’s a compatible relationship. Mentoring should be a rewarding experience for both the mentor and the mentee.
When identifying a mentor, consider:
- What do I want to learn from them? Is my goal; career, cultural, or content-focused?
- What is their capacity in terms of time and resources to mentor me?
- What skills or expertise could I possibly offer them in return?
2. Meet with your potential mentor: If you don’t know this person well, don’t go into a first meeting prepared to ask them to mentor you. Your initial meeting should be to evaluate the connection that you have with them and determine if this person would be compatible with you. Remember this is a relationship that is built on trust and respect, which may take some time to establish.
In self-reflection following a first meeting with a potential mentor, consider:
- What kind of expertise does this person have that is beneficial to you?
- Do you feel this person has a genuine interest in you and your goals? Are they as invested in the relationship as you are?
- What are their expectations of you?
- How casual or formal are they? Is this comfortable for you?
- How much time do they have available? Is it easy to schedule meetings with this person?
- How will you communicate? In-person? Over email?
- What is their communication style? Are they talkative and do they drive the conversation or do they ask lots of questions? Do you feel like they listen to you?
- Would you feel comfortable asking this person for advice or accepting criticism from them?
- How do you feel walking away from a conversation with this person?
If you find that this relationship is not one you’d like to pursue for any number of reasons, make sure you still follow-up with a thank you remark for their time.
3. Propose a mentorship relationship with your mentor: When you’ve found someone who feels like a good fit, follow up with them and express your interest in meeting again. When asking this person to mentor you, be clear in describing the kind of support that you’re seeking, why, and why you think this person could help you. Acknowledge the work that the relationship would take for both you and your mentor, and make sure to ask what you could do for the mentor in return. If you’ve already identified a way you think you could support your mentor, make this offer. Be respectful of their time and boundaries and don’t be disheartened if they can’t make the commitment.
4. Establish your mentorship relationship: When you’ve found a compatible mentor and they’ve agreed to it, outline your expectations of the relationship - you are responsible for defining what your professional goals are. Also, set the expectation of how often you will meet or touch-base and be proactive in reaching out to your mentor.
You and your mentee will both have some anxiety and/or excitement about building this new relationship. Take the initiative to explore mutual interests and find common ground. Because trust is so fragile at this point, it is extremely important to be consistent, authentic, and open minded. What you do now will set the tone for the rest of the mentoring relationship.1
Whether you use the template in its entirety, or use it to define your own, using a mentorship work plan may be beneficial in more formal situations.
Setting Boundaries with your mentor
Setting boundaries in the mentoring relationship will help to ensure that you and your mentor have realistic expectations of one another and can also help you to avoid some awkward situations.
Some good boundaries to set up with your mentee might include:
- What conversation topics are off-limits
- Language/words that are off-limits
- What ways are appropriate to communicate with one another, at what times of day, and how frequently
- Types of behavior that are off-limits
- Defining your role – what you can and cannot reasonably do with and for your mentor
5. Sustaining your mentorship relationship: By this stage, trust has been established and conversation is more comfortable, personal, and open. Working on goals might be a central focus of the relationship.
While this new level of comfort is wonderful, it also might come with some new challenges. You and your mentor may struggle to live up to the expectations you agreed to at the start of the relationship. If this happens, you might re-negotiate the terms of your relationship by evaluating what you have accomplished, what new goals you have, and how you would like to work on them together.2
6. Think about transitioning: Change can be a scary thing, but they can be made easier by preparing for them. A good way to prepare for relationship transition with your mentor is to talk about it! Celebrate how much you have accomplished. Part of these discussions should include what you want your relationship to look like once the program or relationship ends. No matter when you decide to transition out of the mentoring relationship, be sure to give yourself and your mentor closure. Closure means ending the relationship on a good note, celebrating the time you have spent together, and clarifying your relationship moving forward. Make sure you are both on the same page.
Mentoring: a process for the informal transmission of knowledge, social capital, and psychosocial support perceived by the recipient as relevant to work, career, or professional development
Mentee: A person who is advised, trained, or counseled by a mentor
Psychosocial Mentoring: aspects of the relationship that enhance an individual’s sense of competence, identity, and effectiveness in a professional role.
Formal Mentoring: The most common type of mentoring. Refers to the frequent face to face mentoring sessions
Informal Mentoring: occurs in a relationship between two people where one gains insight, knowledge, wisdom, friendship, and support from the other. This is less structured than formal mentoring
Peer-mentorship: Peer mentors are close in age to their mentees- for instance high school students mentoring elementary or middle schoolers, or college upperclassmen mentoring incoming freshmen.
Situational: Mentoring that takes place around a certain event or topic, it is short term and based more on advising on a situation and a person's ability to navigate this situation than a long term mentorship
Career Resilience: the ability to adapt to changes even when situations are disruptive
Rose, G. L. (2003). Enhancement of mentor selection using the ideal mentor scale. Research in Higher Education, 44(4), 473-494.
Eesley, C. & Wang, Y. (2017). Social influence in career choice: Evidence from a randomized field experiment on entrepreneurial mentorship. Research Policy, 46(3), 636-650
Ridhi, A. & Rangnekar, S. (2014). Workplace mentoring and career resilience: An empirical test. The Psychologist-Manager Journal, 17(3), 205-220.
Craig. C. A. et al., (2012). The impact of career mentoring and psychosocial mentoring on affective organizational commitment, job involvement, and turnover intention. Administration & Society, 45(8), 949-973.