You’ve likely been told that you would benefit from having a role model, mentor, coach, or sponsor. Which do you need, and what’s the difference? There are fundamental distinctions as each plays a crucial yet varied role. Understanding them and knowing which pivotal person is missing in your career will provide insight. Let’s learn more about a Mentor and its Benefits.
A mentor is someone who talks with you about your career, goals, plans, and aspirations. They help you refine your strategy, suggest people you should speak to, opportunities you should partake in, and obstacles you should be aware of. Mentors usually take on two primary roles. First, they help with your career and psycho-social needs, motivating and inspiring you toward your next milestone or goal. Second, mentors can also recommend other people who should be on your mentoring team. This is a long-term relationship often continuing for years or even a lifetime.
When we’re feeling drained, mentoring is one task that tends to fall by the wayside. But mentors don’t have to burn themselves out to be helpful and practical. This approach, called “fuel-efficient mentoring” by the authors, suggests how to be a mentor in an efficient manner that benefits mentees, growing their confidence and their network, but also conserves your energy. First, define boundaries and expectations, recognizing your preferences; second, set a time budget that mentees can draw on; third, reconsider how you structure meetings with mentees and try group conversations; fourth, try virtual meetings; and finally, look for ways to turn other commitments, such as professional events, into mentoring opportunities.
Mentorship is instrumental to successful career development for Emerging Investigators. As an Emerging Investigator, finding a great mentor and using them appropriately is a critical ingredient to the successful transition from mentored to independent researcher. You can find resources valuable to your development in the Mentorship for Mentors corner if you are a mentor.
Mentoring contributes significantly to your ability to realize your true potential in your field of interest and reflects a dynamic process between the mentor and the mentee that requires clarity of shared and aligned expectations, a structured work plan as well as constructive communication and feedback to optimize the benefits of the mentor-mentee relationship. In the highly competitive world of academic medicine, having an effective mentor can help ensure a productive outcome.
Your mentor can help you successfully navigate the academic research landscape and move forward professionally by providing guidance, support, and advocacy. The interest, knowledge, strategic advice, and the help of a mentor coupled with your realistic goal setting, and proactive participation in your mentoring relationship, can provide you with compelling opportunities for personal growth and career advancement. There are several different types of mentors, often thought of as complementary and interlinked as part of a Matrix Mentoring Model.
1. Mentoring Can Be Both Formal and Informal
Companies and professional societies organize many good, formal mentoring programs, but informal opportunities can be of equal and perhaps even more excellent value.
Maybe there is someone who has a skill or capability you admire. First, consider asking them if they have time for a meeting over coffee. Then, ask them about their career path — what worked for them, what didn’t, and whether they have recommendations they would make to someone developing their career.
I’m not sure if my informal mentors knew they were mentors to me, but I appreciated their time and wisdom. I learned a lot by connecting informally, listening to their stories, and soliciting their advice.
2. Be Clear on Your Mentoring Goals
Know what you’d like to learn from a mentor, whether it’s how to influence others, how to present new ideas or concepts, or something else entirely. Share your goals with your mentor, so they know how to help you reach them. In most formal mentoring relationships, the goals you want to achieve should be clear so progress can be measured along the way.
3. Learn From Negative Examples
You can learn from anyone — even people you didn’t really like working for or alongside. These negative examples can teach you a lot about the professional and personal pitfalls to avoid in life. For example, seeing and experiencing things I didn’t like made me think about the behaviors I didn’t want to exhibit as a leader.
4. Look for Opportunities to Be a Mentor Yourself
Mentoring doesn’t always come by looking up in an organization. So don’t look up all the time! Instead, look down and sideways, too.
Opportunities to mentor others can come from being a resource to new employees joining the organization. We have all been in that situation, and most of us would have appreciated having a buddy to help us navigate a new company or role. Your helpfulness will be returned many times over.
5. Confidentially Is Key
Confidentiality is an essential component of mentoring, which may mean that you will need to seek a mentor outside of your immediate chain of command. The mentor/mentee relationship should be a safe space, a circle of trust.
There is another benefit to having a mentor outside your reporting chain, too: They may be able to share what they know about you with other people in the organization. It’s great to have advocates across the organization who can speak highly of you and your accomplishments.
6. Trust Your Advocates
As indicated above, a mentor can talk on your behalf. As one mentor put it to me, it’s a matter of “building your fan club.” Bosses appreciate hearing positive feedback about you from others.
7. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Someone to Be Your Mentor
Even if it’s someone at a senior level. Senior-level people are easier to reach for help than you might think. You may not find them available at your company, but they can be found informally in your social circles and community life.
Every senior-level person I have spoken with has told me getting to where they are never easy. Most have had their setbacks along the way, and they can share with you how they bounced back in the face of adversity.
8. Be Open to Listening
Again, mentors can be found anywhere. But, once you have found one, you have to listen to what they have to say.
A mentor can provide a fresh perspective; they can point out new things you hadn’t considered before. Being a mentor or a mentee puts you to teach and communicate, which makes you a better professional.
So go ahead. Get mentored, and become one yourself. It will be a game-changer in your life.