If you work in government, you’ve probably heard it enough times to know that it’s true: mentors matter. From former President Barack Obama to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerburg, a number of today’s most prominent public figures have noted the mentorship model’s importance.
Recently, GovLoop explored how to make the most of mentorships in government, in a webinar called “Make Your Mentorship Matter.” Natalya Pestalozzi, Practice Lead in Coaching & Mentoring at Management Concepts Inc., and Monica Kang, Founder and CEO of InnovatorsBox, shared some of the do’s and don’ts they’ve learned through their careers.
Among the do’s, Pestalozzi encouraged listeners to spend time developing trust, asking questions and being clear about what help you need. But she cautioned against expecting too much too soon. Mentees should not rush to make the relationship about them, forget to listen or expect a mentor to solve problems for you, she said.
She also differentiated between a mentor and a coach. A coach, she explained, listens, mirrors and makes distinctions, but does not tell, advise, teach or train. Likewise, a coach is not expected to be an expert in the client’s area of domain.
A mentor, on the other hand, shares experience, guides, teaches and provides advice. He or she may introduce the mentee to others in the network.
“Make sure that you’re really clear on what mentorship isn’t,” Pestalozzi said. “Mentoring isn’t a hookup to another opportunity. It’s not a free pass. But if you’re willing to invest in yourself, the time commitment, and really grow that relationship with open communication and honesty … this will really set you up for success.”
Of course, all this assumes that you already have a mentor in place, which may not be the case for everyone. Both Pestalozzi and Kang urged listeners to reach outside their comfort zones to find mentors with varied backgrounds and skillsets.
“I started first with a lot of questions,” Kang said of her mentor search. “How do I find a mentor? And how do I build a relationship with someone I respect? And how do you keep it?” She offered five tips for mentees to keep in mind after finding a mentor.
1. Ask and give.
Mentorships aren’t free of work for the mentee. Oftentimes, when both parties put in time and effort, they can be mutually beneficial. For example, an older mentor may have industry insight to provide a younger professional, but ask for tips on using social media to grow their brand.
2. Be patient.
You can’t expect to walk into one meeting with your mentor just to come out with all your professional goals accomplished. Like any other kind of relationship, it takes time and nurturing.
3. Be curious.
Generally speaking, people can tell when others aren’t being sincere. With that in mind, truly wanting to get to know the other person, as well as grow professionally, will go a long way. Authenticity counts a lot here.
4. Be open-minded.
You never know where you’ll find that one mentor who changes your life. It could be in line at the grocery store. It could be waiting for the metro. Leave yourself open to life’s serendipities.
5. Know yourself.
If you don’t know where your ambitions begin, you’ll probably find it difficult to understand where you want to direct them moving forward. It’s important to understand your strengths and weaknesses, so you can seek out mentors who will address your specific concerns.
Kang also shared a tidbit she learned from a mentor of hers: diversify the types of mentors you take on. Ideally, you should find a mentor who looks and thinks like you; one who looks but doesn’t think like you; one who doesn’t look but thinks like you; and one who neither looks nor thinks like you. That way you can gather a variety of advice and guidance that should mix affirmation and criticism in equal parts.
“Every person is able to give in different ways,” Pestalozzi said. “We just want to make sure we’re asking our mentor what ways they can give, and we want to make sure we’re not asking them to give in ways that actually play to their weaknesses. We want to ask them to give in ways that play to their strengths.”