Have you ever had a mentor? Did you consider tallying the current relationship you have with your mentor? Do the qualities that you look for in an ideal/best mentor, match your current one? If not, how do you know what are some qualities that make the best mentor?
This writing is solely based on personal experience. The other day my friend and I were having a conversation regarding mentorship and how I practically ‘broke-off’ with my former mentor.
My friend pointed out that being the Monica (F.R.I.E.N.D.S fans will understand) that I am, I found it a little difficult to connect with the vibe of the respective person and he even said that knowing when to quit not just a situation, but a person is also important. He said, Aishwarya, there are certain specific qualities that make a good mentor and even the best mentoring relationships can run their course or become ineffective.
That conversation just opened my eyes and sparked the idea of this blog post. I was a little scared of writing on personal experience, but it gave me the much-needed push to bring this out into the world. That verbal communication will now be the backbone of this incredible piece of advice!
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Why I’m Writing This Post
A little truth bomb – So I was working as a freelance business development executive for a highly renowned Indian author and coach. I loved all of his books and leadership principles. I considered him one of my idols since I could relate to the field of work so much. What I didn’t know back then, which I got to only know while working with him, is that he isn’t as inspiring in person as he seemed in his writings (and online.) That struck like lightening. I couldn’t see myself learning from and idolizing him anymore, let alone having him push my dreams and making me work around the clock like a useless machine. I don’t know if I should say this publicly (I’m a little afraid), but most of his work was handed down to him by someone else, whose credit he took since he paid a decent sum of money for it. That, for me, is just wrong. Taking someone else’s credit for work isn’t what a mentor should do. That’s when I decided to leave and start looking for realistic qualities in a mentor.
And it brings me here, after a little push from my friend (a major shoutout to him at the end of this post) to help you all out in looking for the best qualities in a mentor.
Having a great mentor can do wonders for your professional development and career. But, if you are no longer learning from your mentor or the chemistry is simply not there, there’s no point in prolonging it. You do yourself and your mentor a disservice if you stay in a relationship that isn’t meeting your needs. If in order to grow, it’s necessary to move on, don’t hesitate to break it off. I’ll write a second blog post on ‘how you can effectively break off with your mentor without straining the relationship.’
Right now, let’s talk about what qualities you should look for in a mentor and why it’s so important. I’ve penned this advice mostly from the perspective of business/professional mentorship due to my personal experience, but the qualities could be applied to other areas of mentoring as well.
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What The Best Mentors Do
Mentorship comes in many flavors. It doesn’t always work unless leaders bear in mind a few common principles.
Over the past three years, I’ve been researching how leaders can better judge and develop their talent in light of a changing, more purpose-driven, more tech-enabled work environment. The most admired leaders across business, culture, arts, and government, have one important characteristic that stands out: They do everything they can to imprint their “goodness” onto others in ways that make others feel like fuller versions of themselves. Put another way, the best leaders practice a form of leadership that is less about creating followers and more about creating other leaders. How do they do that? I’ve noticed four things the best mentors do:
1. Put the relationship before the mentorship.
All too often, mentorship can evolve into a “check the box” procedure instead of something authentic and relationship-based. For real mentorship to succeed, there needs to be a baseline chemistry between a mentor and a mentee. Studies show that even the best-designed mentoring programs are no substitute for a genuine, intercollegial relationship between mentor and mentee. One piece of research, conducted by Belle Rose Ragins, a mentoring expert, and professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, demonstrated that unless mentees have a basic relationship with their mentors, there is no discernable difference between mentees and those not mentored. All this is to say that mentoring requires rapport. At best, it propels people to break from their formal roles and titles (boss versus employee) and find common ground as people.
2. Focus on character rather than competency.
Too many mentors see mentoring as a training program focused around the acquisition of job skills. Obviously, one element of mentorship involves mastering the necessary competencies for a given position. But the best leaders go beyond competency, focusing on helping to shape other people’s character, values, self-awareness, empathy, and capacity for respect. They know in the long run that there is a hard truth about soft matters and that these values-based qualities matter a lot more than skill enhancement. There are many ways to mentor people around these values and to build greater self-awareness.
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3. Shout loudly with your optimism, and keep quiet with your cynicism.
Your mentee might come to you with some off-the-wall ideas or seemingly unrealistic ambitious. You might be tempted to help them think more realistically, but mentors need to be givers of energy, not takers of it. Consider why an idea might work, before you consider why it might not. The best method I know for thinking this way is the 24×3 rule for optimism. It’s very difficult to master, but not impossible. Each time you hear a new idea, see if it is possible for you to spend 24 seconds, 24 minutes, or a day thinking about all the reasons that the idea is good before you criticize any aspect of it. It’s been said that the world prefers conventional failure over unconventional success; good mentors should encourage exploration of the latter.
4. Be more loyal to your mentee than you are to your company.
Of course, we all want to retain our best and brightest. We also want our people to be effective in our organizations. That said, the best mentors recognize that in its most noble and powerful form, leadership is a duty and service toward others, and that the best way to inspire commitment is to be fully and selflessly committed to the best interests of colleagues and employees. Don’t seek only to uncover your mentees’ strengths; look for their underlying passions, too. Help them find their calling. Most of us have experienced people, such as friends, religious leaders, and family members, who serve as our anchors and guides outside our workplaces. Why can’t we bring this same high level of trust and support inside the workplace? In a lot of cases, we owe it to mentees to serve as something more than just career mentors.
The best mentors avoid overriding the dreams of their mentees. If an employee and a job aren’t a good fit, or if an ambitious employee realistically has limited upward mobility in a company, a good mentor will help that employee move on. They might be better suited to another role within the organization, or even to a new path somewhere else.
At its highest level, mentorship is about being “good people” and having the right “good people” around us — individuals committed to helping others become fuller versions of who they are. Which is why the organizations and leaders I’ve come to admire most are the ones devoted to bringing others along.
And, finally, here is my friend and the person who helped bring this conversation to life. To the motivation he provided to help bring my personal experience forward, I’m grateful. Thank you, Hrushikesh!
Here is his picture and Instagram profile for anyone wanting to say hi.
Instagram – Hrushikesh Mantri
Feel free to ask any follow-up questions or share your ideas in the comment section below. Alternately, I’d really appreciate for you to share this content on your social media platform if you found it useful so that others can benefit from it too. If you have any doubts or want a personal clarification, send me an email on firstname.lastname@example.org. For more inspiration, fun, and smiles, follow me on Instagram
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