Better get a mentor son, better get a real good one

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17 August 2014

Over the last few years of my career I've been both mentored on and mentor for the various aspects of working within a business as an owner, employee, or client. This mentoring/mentorship covered acquisition of new business, the production of work, engagement of employees, and more.

It is a rewarding experience for me as a mentor, and an invaluable experience to be mentored. I meet monthly with multiple mentors who help me with different aspects of my day to day career (and life) in ways that I would otherwise have to learn myself far less efficiently. From these relationships I'm able to tap into the experiences, and differing views of those more seasoned and wiser than I am. It makes a lot of sense.

Keep it casual or don't It's important to note however that there is a difference between a Mentor and a Coach, and the two can serve very different purposes.

A Mentor is more aligned with problem solving and debriefing. With a Mentor we would explore and rationalise the every day problems we're facing at work. As such the conversation tends to be informal and explorative.

It's a bit like therapy, in that the outcomes are to achieve an alternate view on a particular problem (or problems) that you haven't been able to resolve alone.

While a Coach is there to provide you with guard rails and to keep your career on track. Conversations tend to be very structured and with specific purpose; like a lecture.

Both are a great idea, though a business coach is going to help you drive your career skywards, over a Mentor who is going to help you be better at being you right now.

Structure the relationship To ensure we're keeping the relationship as beneficial as possible it's important not to be too lackadaisical about the arrangement with your Mentor.

Formalising the relationship will strengthen it, and change the perspective of benefits for the menthe as expectation will be higher.

A good mentorship is akin to an internship, albeit in reverse, and you should offer to pay for your Mentor's time either as a nominal fee, for the coffee/breakfast, or travel.

Consider outcomes Before diving head first we should consider the reasons we want a Mentor (which might require an overall goal in mind), which will drive what we want to achieve in the sessions.

This will also help decide on who the right Mentor is. If you're a technical lead and you would like to be a better influencer to senior stakeholders, choosing a Mentor that has experience within a management team or an influential position—like CTO—is naturally going to be better than a run of the mill senior developer.

Whereas if it is to become a better developer speaking with a seasoned senior developer is going to be far more appropriate than a CTO.

Lightening the load of problem solving and dealing with every day work problems makes a lot of sense, and sharing the work with a mentor is a very effective way to do so.

Mentorship is also a tried and tested method of personal development throughout history, with one of my favourite notions of good mentorship coming from the bible:

Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another — Proverbs 27:17

So get a mentor. And get a good one.