Mentoring relationships have been on my mind, in preparation for a key note address to students at the International Interior Design Association’s Student Portfolio Day.
I have looked through a few great titles such as Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi. And I have surfed my favorite blogs like the Accidental Creative. I love to hear the stories of involved parents, inspiring teachers or a mentor, and how these relationships were essential to future accomplishments.
My dad has always been an inspiration and a guide. A while back I asked him if a particular person played a role in his career, and the discussion lead to the topic of mentoring. As usual, Dad added new insights to my views on both mentoring and being mentored. As a professional, I have had many mentors, but I wish that I had been more thoughtful about those relationships. From talking with friends and colleagues, I found many people have similar feelings. They also have questions like, “What is a mentor and how do I get one? The following are some thoughts on mentoring, inspired by a discussion with Dad.
A mentor plays a critical role in your success as a professional, facilitating your professional growth and your access to future opportunities. For many, the choice of a mentor will naturally follow your professional interests and aspirations. You will want a mentor who has expertise in areas you wish to develop in-depth knowledge and skill. She or he will be a primary source of information, provide constructive comments, and evaluate your plans and decisions. A mentor will provide encouragement and support. But what does a mentor do, exactly?
The origin of the word is telling. Mentor was the name Homer gave to the trusted
counselor that Odysseus left in charge of his household during his journeys. Mentoring is a process in which an experienced person offers advice, support and encouragement to a less experienced person. Mentoring is a one-to-one relationship between mentor and protégé, in which the mentor shares her or his professional and personal knowledge, skills and experiences with the protégé, and importantly, both the mentor and the protégé grow and develop in the process.
The one-to-one relationship is critical to the mentoring process. The best relationships are built on mutual trust, respect, encouragement, and constructive guidance. Personal chemistry between the mentor and the protégé is key to success. It is the mentor’s job to provide the kind of help that best suits the needs of the protégé. The mentor must exercise good judgement in helping the protégé determine goals and objectives, before jointly identifying future aspirations. More than anything else, the mentor must be a good listener. The protégé has important responsibilities, too. The protégé is the driving force in building and insuring a productive relationship with the mentor. Establishing expectations at the start of the process is fundamental to the relationship’s success. The protégé needs to manage the process, and that includes measuring progress. To accomplish this, the protégé must know what she or he wants to get from the relationship. You may be asking yourself, what attributes should I look for in a mentor?
Here are a few ideas.
• An effective mentor is accomplished and competent in their areas of interest and responsibility. She or he demonstrates genuine interest and expertise in the subject and is someone you can learn from.
• An effective mentor shows enthusiasm for teaching, makes time for regular contact and helps people negotiate the system. She or he provides wise counsel, clear expectations and appropriate feedback.
• An effective mentor creates an atmosphere conducive to learning, sets high standards, challenges people to think for themselves and engages their ideas. She or he displays integrity, and is forthright when dealing with conflict.
• An effective mentor is respectful of the protégé’s needs, believes in the protege’s abilities, and above all has an abiding interest in seeing the protégé succeed.
• An effective mentor has good work habits, is well organized, and efficient. She or he gets things done and attends to deadlines.
In your search for a mentor, keep in mind that not all mentors are alike. Some are just beginning their careers and some are well established. Some are heavily committed either inside or outside of the office or studio, while others are less so. Some expect to collaborate and some take a hands-off approach. Remember that no one is perfect. As I mentioned at the beginning, mentoring is a process: a process that by no means requires a single person to fill the job of mentor. If you are willing to listen, converse and debate, you will find that by sharing and testing ideas with others, the opportunities to learn and grow are limitless.