By Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt
Faculty Member, Transportation and Logistics, American Public University
Last month, I wrote an article on mentoring and coaching that received several comments and some personal emails. But it also made me think that my previous article just scratched the iceberg of this topic.
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My earlier piece highlighted the need for everyone to become both a mentee and mentor and what makes a mentor/mentee relationship successful. But how do you become a mentor? How do you acquire a mentor?
It’s Necessary to Ask for a Mentor and Be Willing to Learn
The short answer to getting a mentor is to ask. Only a slight percentage of corporate executives report having a mentor, yet some of the most successful executives report having both a coach and mentor.
What’s the connection? In most cases, the person is bold enough to ask for a mentor. It’s an awareness to communicate your willingness to learn from someone in a new way which requires humility. At the same time, you also acknowledge that you are ready for the next higher level of learning. Being a good mentor/mentee means a willingness to be vulnerable, yet aware of how the mentor/mentee relationship can positively affect both people.
Using a Structured Mentor/Mentee Program
In addition, structured programs have merit. According to Big Brothers, Big Sisters of America, their recently created mentor/mentee program has proven results. This organization states that “Young people enrolled in the program report improved grades and peer relationships – mirroring the positive youth outcomes synonymous with Big Brothers Big Sisters legacy, community-based mentoring program, while reducing potential barriers to entry for volunteers by meeting them in their workplace. And companies have found that the mentoring program can improve morale for employees; studies show volunteerism can reduce the high costs associated with employee turnover by 39%. “
Mentoring Is about Successes and Failures
I’ve never met a perfect person, and chances are you haven’t, either. It’s one aspect of our culture that we rarely talk about. Everyone fails, and everyone has shortcomings. It’s what makes us unique, and we see the world through our own lens.
But a powerful aspect of mentoring is having the ability to be vulnerable and acknowledge that there are areas you need help in order to grow and succeed. Mentoring won’t prevent you from failing, but it can provide a safe environment for you to discuss potential challenges and develop mitigation techniques.
Mentoring Is a Two-Way Street
For every mentor you have, you should seek to have one to two mentees because you will benefit from not only learning but also teaching. To say it another way, you don’t truly know something until you have taught it multiple times.
Mentors come and go, and many relationships develop organically. Many times, a mentor relationship can develop by being in the right place at the right time. Mentors fulfill a need for that particular point in your life. Mentors can help with your personal, professional, health, spiritual and career needs.
Be Prepared to Explore Areas That Make You Uncomfortable during Your Conversation Time
Your time is precious, and so is the time of your mentor/mentee. So be prepared to have the uncomfortable conversations that could be crucial to your future success.
With your mentor or mentee, be vulnerable enough to discuss any shortcomings and failures, and be bold enough to call out each other on shortcomings and idiosyncrasies. Also, be willing to listen, share and contribute — in other words, be fully present and don’t allow your attention to be distracted.
There’s no playbook on the cadence of mentor meetings. Even if the meetings last mere minutes, they can still be impactful.
Having a mentor/mentee is a way to show your accountability. By discussing events that occur in your professional or personal life, you can create a unique space to offer and receive guidance and you can also be held to commitments.
The overarching goal of being a mentor or mentee is to better yourself. By striving for that goal, you can also improve your environment – whether you’re at home, at work or at leisure.
About the Author
Dr. Kandis Y. Boyd Wyatt, PMP, is a professor at American Public University and has 20 years of experience managing projects that specialize in supply chain management. She holds a B.S. in meteorology and an M.S. in meteorology and water resources from Iowa State University, as well as a D.P.A. in public administration from Nova Southeastern University.
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