You need mentors. If you have any doubt, pick up almost any career guidance book or magazine. According to Catalyst, a nonprofit that researches and advocates for women in the workplace, employees with mentors tend to earn more, advance further, stress less, and experience higher rates of job satisfaction. And that’s just career-focused mentoring!
Spiritual and life mentoring offer countless benefits too. I’m convinced, in fact, that God designed us for mentoring relationships. paints a picture of generations of men and women learning and growing in connection with one another. advises that “one generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts” (ESV). calls on believers to “spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another” (NIV).
This probably doesn’t come as news to most of you. Most working women I meet have been hearing for years about how they need more mentors in their lives. This is not bad advice; it’s advice I’ve given often. And a big part of what we have worked to develop at 4word is a guided mentoring program that brings together career-minded women of faith. But I’ve realized even within a program like ours, there can be lots of confusion about what mentoring is (and is not), and what kinds of roles both parties can and should play.
Too many women approach mentoring thinking that simply securing the “right” mentor is a magic bridge to vibrant faith, career success, and life balance. Sheryl Sandberg calls this the “Sleeping Beauty” effect. She says women have been conditioned to expect a mentoring “Prince Charming” will come and whisk them away up the career ladder to “a corner office to live happily ever after.”
Mentoring is powerful. It can lead to great things in your faith, relationships, and career. Finding a mentor is a big first step, but it’s only a first step. There’s a lot more work to do if you want to make the most of your mentoring relationships!
At 4word, our mentoring program is coordinated by Trina Lee. Trina oversees the program and personally and prayerfully matches each of the participants. She believes almost any mentoring pair of people and personalities can thrive, as long as there is a set, regular time to meet, rapport is quickly established, and goals and expectations are understood.
Step One: Commit
If you have a formalized mentoring relationship through a program or simply by agreement with your mentor, you should be mutually prepared to commit to certain regular meeting times. Talk to your mentor about whether that means meeting weekly or monthly, and once something is on the calendar, do everything you possibly can not to miss it. Your mentor is likely to be a very busy person, and repeatedly missing or rescheduling meetings signals disrespect for her time. On the other hand, if your mentor repeatedly misses meetings with you, it’s likely a signal she is too busy to mentor you on the scale you would like. If you’re in that position, it may be best to shift the relationship toward a less formal (but still beneficial) “as-needed” mentoring relationship. Instead of trying to set consistent meetings, simply ask, “I really value your experience—can I come to you if a tough question comes up?”
Sometimes, even when both parties are fully committed, things come up that do necessitate canceling a meeting. If that happens to you and you need to reschedule, contact your mentor as soon as you know there’s an issue, and when you do, provide two or three alternative times you know work for you to meet. That keeps the conversation going and shows you value your time together enough to have thought ahead.
Step Two: Establish Rapport
The very best mentoring relationships benefit both parties equally. That means you need to get to know your mentor every bit as much as she needs to know you. Take time to ask questions about the path of her career, but also about her life, interests, and formative experiences. If you’re not sure where to start, here are some good ideas from Forbes.com.
It is often helpful for a mentor pair to have a few attributes in common (like marital status, children, industry, and so on), but differences can also be an asset, and the more you learn about your mentor, the better you’ll be able to understand and identify areas where you can help and support each other.
Step Three: Set Goals and Expectations
Mentoring relationships can come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from extremely formal, curriculum-based models to more casual, organically developing relationships. This is healthy, and, in fact, it’s good to try to have a variety of mentoring relationships in your life. Because of the wide range of “mentoring” possibilities, however, it’s crucial both parties understand the expectations of their relationship.
How often will you plan to meet? What are the “big picture” goals of your relationship? What are one or two specific things you hope to accomplish in the next six months or year, and how are you hoping your mentor can help?
Early on, be sure to ask your mentor her preferred method of communication (whether it’s email, phone, or text message), especially when it comes to setting up times to meet.
Step Four: Do Your Homework
My friend Ka Cotter is passionate about mentoring. She spent decades building a family and a highly successful career in corporate real estate at a time when women were rare in the industry. Now officially “retired,” she spends a lot of time with her grandchildren, as well as a lot of time supporting a younger generation of women who are “in the trenches” of life and work. Ka has personally mentored countless women, formally and informally, and she’s even going to be part of 4word’s upcoming (January 2015) mentoring session. She’s been part of developing a mentoring program for Corporate Real Estate Women (CREW) and a life skills mentoring model for at-risk mothers through the YWCA. In short, Ka is a dream mentor. She’s exactly the kind of person I longed to have in my life as a young professional.
When Ka sits down with a mentee, one of the first things she wants to know is what the person’s goals for mentorship are. Does she want to plan her career progression or change careers? Work on balancing family and work? Does she want to be a better manager? Grow her business? Navigate office politics? Ka is generous with her time, but she doesn’t have a lot of extra time, so it can be frustrating if a mentee seems unprepared or can’t answer basic questions about her goals and desires.
As a mentee, you need to do your homework, and come prepared to help your mentor help you. If you don’t already know your mentor well, read up before that first meeting! Understand as much as you can about who she is and where she’s coming from. And invest some significant time in thinking through your own strengths, weaknesses, goals, and priorities. Trina suggests running through a personal checklist before each meeting: What questions do you have? What specific goals do you want to work on or discuss at this meeting? What progress have you made since you last met? What input do you need? Remember that a mentor relationship is different than a friend relationship. While a friendship can—and hopefully will—form, a mentoring session is time to be intentional and purposeful.
Step Five: Give Gratitude
Don’t assume your mentor knows how grateful you are or how helpful she’s being. One of the great benefits of mentoring someone is getting to see the ways God uses your experiences and expertise to speak into someone else’s life. It is inspiring and energizing to get to see God’s faithfulness in that way. No mentor is perfect, but all have valuable things to offer. So be sure to thank your mentor for her time and efforts, share your successes, and identify the ways in which her help or guidance impacted you.