Throughout our lives, and often at pivotal moments, we need support from a guide with life experience. Having a mentor to help you navigate a period of growth can make all the difference, and point you towards decisions that are best for you.
Everyone can remember that teacher they really clicked with, who showed them a whole new perspective on life, or even ignited their passion for a certain subject.
Mentors are proven to be beneficial in both our professional and private lives. 75% of executives say mentoring has been critical to their development, and mentoring programs are known to add value to larger organisations.
With this in mind, we will be looking in more detail at what a mentor is and how they can help you on your path to professional and personal success.
In a professional context, a mentor is a person experienced in their field who shares wisdom with a protégé or younger person. They actively take an interest in the younger person’s development. While a mentor doesn’t have to be older than their mentee, this is the dynamic in the majority of cases.
When defining the role, it is important to distinguish between that of a mentor and a coach. While the concepts are similar, a mentor provides counsel or guidance, whereas a coach will instruct or train.
The benefits of mentorship are widely documented. It has been shown to improve career outcomes, employee engagement, and employee retention to name a few, and there is extensive evidence that it improves organisations as a whole.
In his book, Mentors: How to Help and Be Helped, comedian, writer and podcaster, Russell Brand, writes about eight mentors who have appeared in his life. He reflects on his relationships with them and how they have enabled him to grow. He describes a mentor as, “somebody who can take you to the frontier of yourself.”
Understanding where your true talents lie can be challenging at times. Professionally, you may be in a position that demands a wide range of skills, not all of which you are equipped for. This can mask our talents and make it more difficult to know where we should direct our energy.
While you may know where your strengths lie, a mentor can help you to work with this and focus on your natural abilities. They can also teach you how to apply them to your work, or redefine your career to play to your strengths.
The right mentor can offer you an untapped fountain of wisdom. It is most likely that they have had the benefit of being in your position before, and have been through a process of growth to get to where they are today.
This experience gives them inside knowledge that can be valuable to you. Their guidance can show you how to take steps forward, while also carving out your own path.
As human beings, we are susceptible to second guessing ourselves and being afraid to put ourselves out there. While negative self-talk is useful from an evolutionary perspective to save us from sticky situations, in the relatively safe and comfortable modern world, it can be quite destructive and limiting.
A mentor can encourage you to challenge your thought processes, especially the negative thinking loops you might find yourself in.
As well as highlighting your strengths, a good mentor can develop your self-awareness and show you when you are at your best. Self-knowledge is an ongoing and difficult journey throughout life (never not learning!), so having a guide at various points along the way can be very worthwhile.
Your mentor will likely be experienced in the field you wish to progress in, and have years of experience. Over time, they will have gained a long list of contacts, many of whom could help you develop further. If you are transitioning to a new line of work, this could be particularly helpful as you are effectively starting out again.
It is clear that working with a mentor has advantages. But how do you go about finding one?
Unfortunately, finding a mentor isn’t necessarily an easy process. It often happens organically between two people, and grows into a mentorship without being formalised. As Russell Brand explains, a mentor also needs to be, “somebody you can realistically emulate.”
Nonetheless, you can first identify an area of growth you would like to focus on, then make connections with people you think could help you to move forward. Over time, these relationships might develop into a mentor-mentee dynamic.
Many larger organisations run mentoring programs, which benefit both the mentor and mentee. It can be equally rewarding to share hard-earned knowledge and wisdom, and those taking on mentors might even learn a thing or two from their protégés! Overall, it is a win-win relationship.