The Many Modes of Mentorship

Mentoring has the power to transform careers and forge valuable long-term connections. There’s no single model of mentorship, and the relationship is a two-way street. Here are some ways to make the most of it.

By Joshua Habursky and Mike Fulton

In our multigenerational workforce, opportunities to forge supportive and productive mentoring relationships may be greater than ever. But there persists a common misconception about mentorship: that your mentor is someone who gets you a job.

Mentors are not menus from which you can order a new job, a new connection, a speaking spot at a conference, or other benefits that will help you climb the career ladder. Mentors may help you attain professional and personal goals, but it’s unwise to enter a mentoring relationship with specific expectations about what he or she will do for you. Mentors are personal and professional guides who can provide quality advice based on their own experience with success—and, maybe even more important, with failure.

If you are fairly new to the professional world, having a mentor or mentors gives you a considerable advantage in getting a foothold in your industry. The working world offers an ocean of opportunity, and your experiences will give you the means to sail. But a mentor provides direction to get you to your destination faster and more reliably—by, for example, sharing “war stories” that illuminate the inner workings of your field and help you avoid the mistakes of the past.

Mentors are personal and professional guides who can provide quality advice based on their own experience with success—and, maybe even more important, with failure.

Mentors can be sounding boards for personal advice as well. Mounting stress and the challenge of balancing life and work can become a burden, and having someone you are comfortable talking with will ease it. A good mentor will want to see you succeed in all aspects of your life, both personal and professional.

But mentorship is a two-way street. As a mentee, you have an obligation to contribute to the relationship. For example, suggest mutually beneficial projects that you and your mentor can work on together, leveraging your combined experience, reputation, and contacts in the effort. When you come up with new ideas, your mentor will see the value of the relationship and will consider you for new opportunities—perhaps involving you in a project that others might not think you’re ready for.

If you are fortunate enough to have an active mentor, routinely update him or her on your life milestones and stay connected with regular interactions to keep the flow of ideas going. Even more important: Say thank you for the advice, support, and assistance your mentor gives. Show reciprocity when you “make it” and support your mentor in the way he or she supported you when you got your start.

Pay it forward. If you had a successful relationship with a mentor, take on mentees throughout your career. Meaningful mentoring relationships benefit everyone involved, as well as the professions they work in.

If you made a resolution to improve your personal life or your career in 2018, or to give something back to your field, mentoring may be right for you.

Joshua Habursky is director of advocacy at the Independent Community Bankers of America, chairman of the Grassroots Professional Network, and adjunct professor at West Virginia University. Email: [email protected]

Mike Fulton directs the Washington, DC, office of the Asher Agency and teaches public affairs in West Virginia University's Integrated Marketing Communications program. Email: [email protected]

Coaching and Mentoring Career Development