Editor’s Note: This is the first in a two-part series on mentorship.
You’ve heard about the power of mentors, but honing in and landing the right one can be difficult. While some programs, like University at Buffalo’s Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership, provide help in connecting mentors to mentees, they typically match people based on industry and skills.
Although there are tactical benefits to this approach, it overlooks what might be the most important factor in a mentoring relationship-- the chemistry between mentor and mentee.
The best mentors:
Put the relationship first.
For real mentorship to succeed, there needs to be a baseline chemistry. Studies show that even the best-designed mentoring programs are no substitute for a genuine, interpersonal relationship between mentor and mentee.
Mentoring requires rapport. At best, it propels people to break from their formal roles and titles (boss versus employee) and find common ground as people.
Pat Whalen, director of Niagara Global Tourism Insititute, said “Chemistry is important, and it doesn't happen with just anyone. What my mentors had in common was that they cared about me. They saw something in me others didn’t.”
When the relationship is the foundation, both parties will invest more in helping one another to be accountable and to make one another proud. All of which drastically improves the final outcome.
Focus on character rather than competency.
The best leaders go beyond competency and skills, focusing instead on helping to shape other people’s character, values, self-awareness, empathy, and capacity for respect. They know that, in the long run, these soft skills are the basis of leadership and lead to success, and that mastering others is strength, but mastering yourself is true power.
Are optimistic, but will challenge you.
Mentors should help you consider both why an idea might work as well as why it might not. They should challenge your way of thinking and ask you the hard questions, but then help you sort through different ways of attacking the challenge.
Matt Pelkey, partner at Colligan Law, shared this, “My best mentors have always pushed me outside my comfort zone. They challenged me to take risks in my career and to be the best version of myself.”
Seek first to understand, then to help.
The best mentors recognize that the best way to inspire others is to be fully and selflessly committed to the best interests of their colleagues and employees. They don’t seek only to uncover their mentees’ strengths; they also look for their underlying passions to help them find their calling.
At its highest level, mentorship is about being “good people” and having the right “good people” around us — individuals committed to helping us become fuller versions of who we are.