Why mentorship matters for career acceleration in both mentees and mentors.
Read our full feature on Women of Influence: https://www.womenofinfluence.ca/2021/08/11/the-benefits-of-reciprocal-mentorship/
It is well known that ‘who you know’ matters. Often, what I find missing is the context for that. Connections and relationships matter; not the quantity of those alone but rather the quality and intentionality of those relationships. Connecting with the right people at the right time/stage in your career (and life) is transformational.
This is the lens through which I look at mentorship and why I’m on a mission to bring it to 1 million people with EnPoint. The inspiration, support, and perspective gained through mentorship, whether as mentee, mentor or both, opens doors for personal and professional growth.
By learning as a mentee, a mentor can help you grow your career and business in a few different ways:
Deepen your self-confidence.
Many find that increasing self-confidence is something that may be hard to do on your own. However, finding a mentor who believes in you is a huge help.
Mentorship supports what we refer to as “beneath the iceberg stuff”: self-confidence, self-esteem and self-worth, which we all may struggle with at many points in our life. Often, this twinge of self doubt may appear in small ways such as attending a networking event or in big ways such as if you’re pitching your business or an idea. Consider how does your confidence allow you to portray who you authentically are, or how does it inhibit you from doing that? I’d argue that the inner work on “self” that you achieve through mentorship is some of the most transformative along with things like coaching and other experiential learning opportunities. Whether we know it or not, self-confidence is gained or drained each day.
For women in particular I believe this is one of the most compelling reasons to find a mentor and build a relationship that uplifts you. As a female founder and entrepreneur in tech, I’ve found mentorship to be a remedy for the widely known “imposter syndrome”. My journey to confidence building with a life-changing mentor can be found here.
Get out of your own way.
Your mentor can help you get out of your own way by helping you gain clarity and understanding of who you are and how you’ve been putting on the brakes for yourself. Lack of experience, limiting beliefs, negative self-talk, bad experiences of our past can compound. They can create a heavy load to carry on your own and can unconsciously skew the way you view opportunities within your career.
I often refer to this with the analogy of buying a pristine, beautiful, and unique mirror you love. You hang that mirror up, you use it everyday, it gets scratched, maybe a little dusty, a little dirty, maybe even foggy, making it hard to see the “real” you. Now imagine, you have someone who is polishing and buffing that mirror every day, it shines just as bright and clear as the day you bought it, allowing you to see everything.
Mentorship is that mirror. As you develop the relationship(s), the mirror becomes clearer, and you will begin to get a sharper picture of yourself and your path. You are equipped now with someone who enables this regularly. Mentors help you stand firm and be proud of what you excel at through celebrating your strengths. But, they can also help ground you by shedding light on your weaknesses and blind spots in a safe environment. By doing so, your mentor can motivate you to freely explore what your interests are and where you choose to invest your time.
Creating a plan then having a mentor hold you accountable and provide you feedback on progress is critical. Remember the mirror analogy? The mirror can get cloudy again, allowing you to get distracted and stray from who you really are, and your goals. Having someone who can help you buff the mirror every once in a while- so you don’t lose your vision- is key. We all need that help.
A competitive advantage for the ‘Future of Work’.
Mentorship can provide a critical competitive advantage -something which can be difficult to find in the ever-evolving labour market. Your relationship with your mentor can help you stand out in the workforce with their support of you owning your “unique value proposition”. As we live through the future of work, the reality of an aging workforce, and a long-awaited focus on equalizing opportunities for groups that have faced systemic barriers to employment, career journeys will continue to look different than before. Mentorship is a crucial tool that can be used to ensure you have access to the right networks and skills you need to excel in your profession. Mentors can facilitate introductions or referrals to relevant stakeholders, help you understand the gap in your skills, and teach you the critical skills that you require within your industry.
Bridging the Gap contributor François Bertrand, Director of Research and Innovation, Polytechnique in Montreal explains, “we need to cultivate the ‘C-Generation’ of collaborators, communicators and critical thinkers, that bring these power skills to every job.” Mentorship offers opportunities for “foundational skill” development, such as adaptability and communication skills, two things needed to successfully navigate the workforce.
Building relationships that matter.
Women in careers have faced systematic barriers that still exist today and have been exacerbated by the effects of COVID-19. According to a report published by McKinsey & Company, while all women have been impacted by COVID-19, three major groups that have experienced the largest challenges are working mothers, women in senior management positions, and Black women. The increase in automation and digitalization further complicates women’s reentry in the workplace due to the need to reskill or find new career paths.
When we look at the impact of people working from home and having to take care of children and/or parents, they likely do not have the same time available to invest in career building networks. Peer groups like Young Presidents’ Organization and Women of Influence that are focused on supporting individuals in their career in intimate settings may not be opportunities that they can leverage despite knowing the advantages that come with these groups matter. As human beings we habitually look within our rolodex to source talent, content, service providers, almost everything. For some, not cultivating or engaging with a “network” may mean unequal access to opportunities and access to compete.
I’ve discovered that having an intentional networking and relationship building strategy is something women in particular struggle with. To some, it often feels contrived and inauthentic, or too many pressures coalesce and the network drops. When looking at male-dominated industries, women have often been excluded from relationship building or “bonding” activities such as golf trips or sporting events, for years and are still dealing with this disadvantage. It is at these events where the connections form, informal conversations happen, and people get to deepen their understanding of who their colleagues are outside of work.
It is critical to invest in relationships as a core pillar in your career management plan. Whether you are starting, building, or rebuilding your career, launching a business, or growing a business, relationships matter. Mentorship is an efficient gateway to other relationships. It is a vehicle to expand your network intentionally, in a manner aligned with the time you can commit, and in a way that is career (and time) aligned. As your relationship with your mentor flourishes, they will have an intimate understanding of you, your interests and your goals. As a result, your mentor becomes your biggest advocate to those who do not yet know you. They will support in cultivating the right kind of relationships with people who they feel would be relevant to your career acceleration.
While not every mentor can support in this way, finding mentors that can and are willing to help you build and facilitate the right network for your career goals are pivotal.
On the flip side, being a mentor is just as beneficial for your career as it is for mentees:
Being a mentor to help you grow.
As a mentor, you have the opportunity to share learning experiences and impart wisdom that your mentee may not have necessarily been privy to.
Sharing these experiences with your mentee can not only help others learn and evolve in their careers, but is also a chance to self-reflect on your journey to success, how you have overcome challenges and what you may have done differently. Sharing your career journey can both deepen your relationship with your mentee and open you up to new learnings about yourself. Being in story telling mode is an active reflection for you as a mentor. Use this time to strengthen your relationship with your mentee, re-examine your career goals, celebrate the wins to date, and re-learn your own personal or professional “truths”.
Impact another life and grow together.
No matter how long you have been in the workforce, you are never too old to learn something new, and never too experienced to learn something from someone less experienced than you. Your mentee can broaden your perspective and uncover any blind spots that you may not even be familiar with. For example, if your mentee comes from a different industry and background, they can offer insight on how different their experiences may be and shed light on their career journey to date. This is an opportunity for you as a mentor to practice curiosity and check any assumptions you have about the world around you. As well, this mutual knowledge exchange allows you to reflect critically on current trends and social issues. Your mentee can help you diversify your perspectives and in some cases, unlearn any practices. This again will deepen your connection to your mentee.
Strengthen your ‘relationship building’ muscles.
Particularly for someone who is building a team, mentorship is a great way for you to develop your skill set on how to build people up. As a mentor you can learn from your experiences outside your workplace and then bring them into your organization and/or different relationships. As a mentor, your goal is to hold a mirror up to your mentee, help them see their strengths and who they authentically repeatedly. You support them by ensuring that your mentee is focused on their goals and objectives.
Mentorship provides us with learnings that are applicable to all areas of our lives. In being a mentor it’s important to reflect on the question of “how do we show up in our other relationships as a positive force that builds people up, as opposed to tearing people down?”
Mentorship is not a one-sided relationship. It is a dynamic and evolving, mutually beneficial relationship. Whether that’s a relationship between two people or a small group of individuals, ultimately there is cross functional and experiential learning in the mentee and mentor roles. Throughout our career and our lives, we may take on both roles, transitioning between mentee or mentor depending the circumstances. I wholly encourage everyone to intentionally mentor and be mentored.