This Public Service Recognition Week (PSRW), we wanted to provide Federal employees with some helpful information on mentoring. Whether you’re a millennial, baby boomer, someone who wants a mentor, or thinking about mentoring yourself, this information can be useful throughout your career. Below please find our take on a Reddit Ask Me Anything (AMA) with our Coaching and Mentoring Practice Lead, Natalya Pestalozzi.
- What’s the best way to find a mentor?
Potential mentors are everywhere. Finding the right one for you and entering into a mentoring relationship depends on what you’re seeking to get out of it, so get clear on that early on so you know what you’re looking for. If you would like to be “matched” with a mentor, a formal mentoring program might be the right place to start. Reach out to your HR team; they may know which departments in your organization are running a formal program, possibly in the context of leadership development. Also, a number of professional organizations provide value to their membership by matching mentees with professionals from other organizations. Check out the national association for your profession, or other professional or community groups with which you affiliated. Your alma mater is also a place to look since alumni often love to help one another.
If you’re looking for something informal or a formal program isn’t available, ask around. Speak with a few colleagues whose opinion you respect and who know you fairly well. Tell them what kind of assistance you’re looking for and ask if they’d be willing to make an introduction to someone who might be a fit. Remember, mentoring relationships are developed over time. You probably won’t ask a stranger to be your mentor the first time you meet them, so ask for an informational interview without expectations of anything more. It may, though, lead to ongoing conversations and rapport building, and even referrals to other resources for professional support. If you feel a strong affinity for one another, it might just turn into a mentoring relationship, which you can craft as you go.
- What boundaries should you have with a mentor?
Boundaries are personal. Certainly, adhere to the professional standards and ethics of your organization. That said, check in with one another. What topics are you comfortable discussing? Do you want to meet socially, strictly during office hours, or somewhere in between? How frequently? On the phone? In person? Is texting okay? Hash this out together. Boundaries can also mean getting clear on what kinds of help your mentor can provide. They might have a boundary about making introductions to their contacts before they’ve gotten to know you well. They might not want to share about their personal life. If your relationship becomes stronger, what you’re each comfortable sharing or asking for can change, and that’s okay. The important thing is that you both honor each other’s boundaries, and you won’t necessarily know where those boundaries are unless you ask.
- Can a mentoring relationship go wrong?
Mentoring relationships can go wrong for a variety of reasons, on account of either the mentor, mentee, or both. I’ve written about some of those reasons, but oftentimes it’s the conversations you don’t have which can lead to a disconnect. Make a point to articulate your needs, hopes, and expectations (and readdress those if they shift). Discuss in advance what might potentially derail the relationship. If you address those points early on, you can have some ground rules and agreements already in place for how to deal with potentially uncomfortable situations and difficult conversations if they do arise.
- Why do people become mentors, what is in it for them?
Mentors benefit from mentoring relationships in a number of ways. For some, mentoring is part of leaving a legacy; imparting knowledge and lessons learned to those who will take the reins behind them. For others, working with newer, younger, or employees with different domain expertise provides an opportunity to continue their learning and stay on top of current trends, popular conversations, and keep a pulse on the challenges others are facing. For many, mentoring is a way to create greater engagement and meaning for themselves within their professional sphere. Just as mentors can help mentees to grow and feel stronger by helping them to develop and use their strengths, mentoring itself is an opportunity for mentors to tap into their own strengths, and give in a way that is energizing for them.
- Is mentoring just for over achievers?
You don’t have to have an extraordinary sense of achievement or drive to be interested in a mentoring relationship. You do, though, need to have an interest in self-reflection and personal/professional growth. You should be interested in different perspectives and have a commitment to do the hard work of confronting roadblocks and take action to work through them, even if slowly. Mentoring is for anyone who wants to take intentional steps to grow their personal and professional capacities through an honest dialogue with someone who might have useful perspectives and guidance.
- I had a mentor assigned to me and it didn’t work out. Should I get another one?
Yes. Don’t let a bad mentor match sour you from the whole experience. Use the negative experience as a model for what you would like to be different in your next mentoring relationship. Do the hard work of reflecting on your possible role in contributing to the decline of the relationship and pay attention to what you find. When you do seek a new mentor, be transparent with them about your experience, articulate your concerns and what you’d like to make sure the both of you do, or don’t do, within the relationship to make it a success.
- I feel like I’m bugging my mentor, what’s a good schedule to work from?
This is a great question to ask your mentor! Have a frank conversation about what you need and hope for, and what your mentor can give without overcommitting. It might take a little time to get into a comfortable groove. Remember, this is a relationship in the making, so be intentional about making it work, and open to conversations to make sure it does. If it isn’t working, redesign your expectations together; talk about what you’re noticing and what might need to shift.
No matter where you are in your mentoring journey, use it as an opportunity to reflect on your growth – from where you’ve been to where you’re going.