Mentors can make or break a person’s career! Strong words, well not necessarily. Having a good guide to help someone with the big picture of career and personal development can massively impact on what they can achieve and what they are prepared to strive for.
I recall a mentor I had when I had just started working in the area of Forestry education. I did not come to the role as a complete beginner, but my picture of what I could achieve was quite limited. My knowledge of the industry was sparse and useful contacts and connections were few and far between. The relationship with my mentor started off with me reporting to this person periodically on programs I was running. After a few chats we decided that I needed some guidance to go forward in the industry. How things developed from there is instructive for anyone seeking to be an effective mentor.
At our first chat my mentor said that we needed to establish how the relationship would proceed and what we were hoping to get out of it. This required us to set some ground rules as to how we would conduct ourselves during the mentoring period. These rules were important to ensure that I was able to make the most of the time with the mentor and also that he ensured his behaviour and attitude was geared towards my interests. This meant putting rules in place such as; being on time for meetings, being honest with each other and doing the things we said we would do both at and away from the meetings.
With these rules in place, we mapped out how often we would meet. Initially this was only on a monthly basis and a little dependent on when I was working at the establishment. We also had a detailed discussion on where I would like to go with my role in the industry and what might be needed to get me there. All of this was important so that we actually had a framework to operate in which would support me through the process.
Over a period of a couple of years, I was able to talk to this person about the challenges I faced and opportunities that were being presented to me. His advice was always given with the best of intentions and to this day I feel that this mentoring relationship made a significant difference to how I became involved in the industry. It also lead to me undertaking tasks I never thought I was capable off but which my mentor had every confidence that I could do given time and the right attitude.
I use this example to emphasise that whilst some mentoring relationships do happen by accident, getting good results from them is anything but. As potential mentors, we have to be prepared to understand what is involved in getting the best out of the people we are guiding. In my next article, I will look at some specific skill sets that will help you develop yourself as the kind of mentor that anyone would like to have.