This is National Mentoring Month and The Center For Confidence is conducting a study to look at the real impact of mentoring and other career relationships designed to support and encourage women and girls to be successful in their life and career (Take the Survey). Research shows that with only a few women in positions of C-Suite and executive boards (Women in Leadership Positions), the possibility of women being mentored by members of the opposite gender is more likely.
“It’s so important to ensure your mentor/mentee relationships are
giving you the skills you need earlier on in your career.”
– Dr. V Brooks Dunbar
I’ve had both male and female mentors. However, in today’s #MeToo climate, there are critical questions arising about how comfortable women are when mentored by a male colleague. A mentor relationship ended the day my male mentor asked, “So, are you happy with your husband?” This was preceded by a list of unsolicited complaints about his wife. I chose not to go down that path, period. And, his question made it very clear, he was less interested in my career than he was in my personal relationships. At that point in my career, I’d learned to #NeverSecondGuess my instincts.
It is important for the mentee to decide if the relationship is working. And, it becomes harder to find mentors when there are fewer choices as you rise up the career ladder. That’s why it’s so important to ensure your mentor/mentee relationships are giving you the skills you need earlier on in your career and that you both agree on what the outcome of the mentorship will be.
My friend Sarah (not her real name) knew that the only reason her female boss volunteered to be her mentor was because it would look good on the boss’ resume. Sarah knew this and eventually, because of little to no interaction, asked her boss if she could have two mentors. The boss agreed and Sarah, without offending her boss, successfully found a mentor who cared about her career development.
I remember my first mentee out of college was a young underprivileged girl who was at risk of dropping out of high school. I was paired with her as volunteer of the mentorship program sponsored by the local chamber of commerce. She was a senior, her caregiver was her grandmother, and even though her mother lived in the area, she had no relationship with her.
I do know her perception of a mentor was quite different from mine.
She thought I was going to expose her to a social environment that she was currently excluded from. She asked for tickets to the local NBA (National Basketball Association) games. She later asked for music concert tickets. On the other hand, I thought I would expose her to a quiet and safe living environment by inviting her to my home to study, supporting positive habits that gave her a sense of structure in her life, and helping her to develop soft skills required to be successful as a person. She was less interested, but receptive. I was okay with that.
Her circumstances became painfully clear to me one day when I was driving her home from a weekend get together and she yelled out, “That’s my mom!” We were less than two miles from her home which was in a deteriorating neighborhood. A woman was walking on the side of the road and when my mentee shouted out in excitement at seeing her mother, I asked in an equally enthusiastic voice, “Do you want me to stop?” She immediately collected herself and said, “No.” Her mood then went somber. I tried to ask her about it again, but never pushed for an answer. I did ask her counselor; her mother was addicted to drugs.
When she finished high school, and graduated without getting pregnant, I breathed a sigh of relief. Somehow, I would have felt like I failed her. Today, I feel like I failed her by not keeping in touch. By not offering a lifeline. At the time, I felt that I had done my best which was to ensure she graduated high school. That was more than two decades ago and I wonder what happened to that girl.
It’s now clear to me that there should have been a hand-off. But, what happened next. I don’t know. I do know that she was still vulnerable. She still needed a mentor, but a different kind of mentor. She needed a coach, an academic life coach to help her transition into college, and then a sponsor who will open the right career doors for her.
That is why I am now advocating for the hand-off. Students and young self-starters need more after mentorship, they need someone to help them transition into successful people with successful habits followed by actions that produce the career results and lifestyle they seek.
Here are my five tips to ensure you have a successful and purposeful mentor relationship.
I challenge all youth mentors to ask for more from their formal mentorship programs. There must be a hand-off in place. This is the same for career mentors who do an excellent job of helping a person to develop the skills they need to be successful employees.
Know when it’s time for the mentorship role to change. When necessary skills are developed, the mentorship role should transition into that of a mentor-coach whose purpose is to put in place an actionable career plan for job ascension.
When the mentor is actively preparing the mentee to take his or place or any higher role, the mentor is now positioned to become a sponsor. I talk about the difference between mentors and sponsors in a previous blog (How Confident Are You in Your Career Relationships).
Be honest with why you want to be a mentor. As in the example with my friend Sarah, if you are not interested in mentoring, but rather in your own advancement, have the conversation. How can you help each other to move forward in your careers?
Lastly, take on multiple mentors. There is no rule to how many mentors or mentees one should have. The different #confidencezones in our lives have unique needs. The best scenario is to have a mentor, coach, sponsor, and/or champion for each area: career, relationships, self, and personal space. Read about these roles Here.
Dr. V. Brooks Dunbar
The Confidence Commander
Author, DIVA DECISIONS: How to Get from Smart to Intelligent by Claiming Your Power of Choice
Twitter: @DrVDunbar @cent4confidence
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