Being asked to be a mentor is one of the greatest gifts someone can ask of you. I remember when I was first asked to be a mentor to an aspiring young professional. Her question caught me a little off-guard. I knew that we had a good, positive working relationship and that she often sought my thoughts when she was struggling with an issue; however, to be asked to be a mentor raises the relationship to a new level. Not only are you invested in the person while they are with you for the short time at the institution, but a mentoring relationship involves a much longer and deeper understanding of each other. As a mentor, you need to be willing to spend time with your mentee and challenge him or her to grow.
While some mentoring relationships do grow out of past supervisory relationships, it is a mistake to equate one with the other. Differing from a supervisor, who challenges growth to ensure completion of responsibilities effectively, a mentor accepts the responsibility to push an individual to develop professionally. Mentoring provides for more process questions, more “what would you do if” questions, and many more devils’-advocate roles. As a new professional works through these issues, the relationship is tightened. The mentor grows through the relationship just as the mentee does.
I was caught off-guard by the question the first time, as I mentioned. However, I still said “yes.” By agreeing to be her mentor, our relationship grew to the point where through casual conversation, I knew when she would be seeking me out and when I needed to check-in with her. While it is easier to do this when you are on campus together, mentoring relationships can occur through e-methods as well. They key is to maintain a connection to each other, whether it be verbal, email, Twitter, or other means. Since that that first time, I have been asked many times by new professionals to their mentor and I am more than happy to say “yes.” But, before I do, I always ask myself these 3 questions:
- How did I do the last time?
- Am I up for the challenge?
- What did I learn from my last mentoring relationship?
Reflection is an important part of our practice. So far, I have always felt good about my responses to these questions and see no reason why it would change in the near future.
If you are a new professional, look around you and find someone you trust who can push you to become a better professional. If you are experienced, consider being a mentor to someone and help them grow. It is an honor for me each time I am asked, for someone believes that I have something to offer them as they develop their professional foundation. Some of my best conversations have come from a mentoring relationship.
What do you think? Are you interested in finding a mentor? What have your experiences been like as a mentor or mentee?