EDUCAUSE: The Benefits of Being a Mentor


Originally posted on EDUCAUSE.

Louise Howard

Louise Howard is the Director of IT Infrastructure and Cloud in the Office of Digital Solutions at Griffith University.


Effective mentoring not only advances the mentee but also rewards the mentor.


Ask successful leaders and managers what the key to their own career success is and you'll get a wide range of answers. Chances are, though, that most of them will tell you they had great mentors and will attribute significance to those relationships in supporting their career trajectory. In 1979, headhunter Gerard R. Roche surveyed over a thousand top executives and reported on the vital role of mentors to their success, especially for women.1 If you've been fortunate enough to experience great mentors yourself, you will no doubt agree with one prominent CEO from the study who said, "Everyone who succeeds has had a mentor or mentors."2


An effective mentoring relationship takes time and effort for both participants, but it's easy to see why less-experienced professionals would want the opportunity to engage with a leader willing to support their career goals. On the surface it can be difficult to understand why, apart from altruism, a busy professional would take the time to guide and invest in the development and work goals of early-career professionals. One of the often-overlooked elements of mentoring is the benefit to the mentor, not just the mentee.


Effective mentoring can be rewarding for both mentees and mentors. If we're lucky, we'll have the chance to be both throughout our careers.


What Is Mentoring?


At its core, mentoring is a one-on-one relationship in which "a more experienced or more knowledgeable person helps to guides a less experienced or less knowledgeable person."3 The mentor usually helps the mentee identify career goals and provides advice and guidance. Sounds a bit like a coach, right? Not quite. While a mentor might use coaching techniques while working with mentees, coaches aren't necessarily mentors. Coaching is a set of skills and behaviors; mentoring is fundamentally relationship based. Unlike a coach, a mentor might also share personal experiences or recommend potential actions.


Why Should I Mentor?


Each of us has the potential to mentor another individual and to promote the role model of mentor to our colleagues. Mentoring young or inexperienced professionals is an investment in the future of our industry and in the success of the future workforce. It's a way we can influence the current culture of our organization and ensure that our workplace and our industry reflect our own values. Contributing as a mentor can deliver personal benefits as well, including:

  • Improving communication or supervisory skills. Effective managers and leaders need to know how to establish positive, trusted relationships. Working with a mentee, particularly one outside of your own organization, provides an opportunity to practice necessary skills, including empathy and active listening.

  • Expanding connections and networks. Cultivating networks is a critical factor in career success and progression. Mentoring new individuals within your industry provides an opportunity to continue to build your own network as you support your mentees to expand theirs.

  • Promoting self-reflection. Mentoring provides an opportunity to reflect not only on what you have achieved but also on how you got there. Which attributes and strengths were critical to your career path success? What should you be doing now to ensure you continue to learn and develop those attributes? Asking questions of a mentee often supports deeper insights on your own learning path and achievements.

Formal or Informal?


Many organizations run their own in-house mentoring programs. These have an advantage of being time bound, perhaps annually or twice a year, and usually involve some introductory sessions for participants to understand the structure and intent of the mentoring relationship. Mentors are volunteers but are still chosen through a process. If you haven't been a mentor before, these types of programs are a good first step. For experienced mentors, they also provide an opportunity to add human capital to your own organization and establish deeper connections within it. More broadly, industry organizations run similar programs for formal mentoring relationships with members, which provide similar opportunities.


Informal mentoring is unstructured and can sometimes result from an introduction from a supervisor or colleague or from the mentee seeking out the relationship independently. These longer-term mentoring relationships often center on interpersonal knowledge and professional respect and admiration. Any formal mentoring program should have the goal of promoting informal mentoring as a strong organizational cultural element.


Tips for Successful Mentors


Mentoring, like other leadership activities, requires development and practice to be effective. The tips below may be useful in your journey as a mentor.

  • Only mentor individuals you believe in. If you are going to invest your time, values, and expertise, you must believe in the mentee and that person's ability to grow and develop. The more senior your role, the more frequently you may receive requests to take on a mentee. Don't accept a request to become a mentor out of obligation without first meeting with the potential mentee to determine whether you feel you have something to offer and can authentically participate in a successful mentoring relationship.

  • Be approachable and available. Holding regular meetings is key to building a trusted relationship. Your mentee should take accountability for scheduling meetings to suit your schedule, especially since our digital world enables meetings in a variety of platforms. Email can also be used maintain contact if necessary. However, if you are not able to reliably commit to regular connection with your mentee, you should reconsider whether to begin the relationship.

  • Remember who the relationship is about. Yes, your experience and perception are significant value components of the mentoring relationship, but ultimately it isn't about you! Most of the conversation should center around the mentee and the mentee's goals.

  • Set goals. While successful mentoring relationships often include an affinity between participants, it's important to remember that the aim is to function as a catalyst for the achievement or acceleration of the mentee's career goals. A longer-term friendship may evolve from the mentee/mentor relationship, but it is not the primary basis for the relationship. The mentee should be setting clear, measurable, time-bound goals: your role is to help your mentee achieve those goals.

  • Share failures as well as success. It is tempting to focus on our wins as exemplars of how to achieve similar career success. Some of the best career lessons occur when we get it wrong. Sharing your failures will help your mentee understand that there will be highs and lows and that learning from mistakes is essential to future success. It also demonstrates the value of resilience and persistence when facing challenges and how the best leaders self-reflect and audit their own actions to support improvement.

  • Be honest. Don't be afraid to challenge mentees when you can see their actions or ideas are going off track and they need to be doing something else. Hold them to their stated action plan and the deadlines they set themselves. Be kind, but direct when necessary, to help them remain accountable to themselves.


Next Steps


Ready to become a mentor? EDUCAUSE has a range of resources for mentors and mentees including the Mentoring as a Professional Development Tool podcast and a Mentoring Agreement to establish agreed expectations from your mentoring relationship.


Original post can be found here.