Yoda's Not Real: 9 Keys To Make The Most of Mentorship IRL
Yoda is not real.
No one person will magically be your mentor who will show you the path to success for your entire professional life.
But you can have fulfilling and productive mentorships if you set expectations and goals, says Jenn Labin, Chief Talent & Diversity Officer at MentorcliQ, a global mentorship platform assisting more than 2 million employees worldwide.
“The idea of a single mentor is a myth that is disruptive because we are taught by movies and books that there is one person like Yoda who will give you everything you need and everything will be great,” says Labin, who has more than 15 years of experience in talent development, training and design.
“I was always focused on mentoring and mentoring skills,” says Labin, the author of Mentoring Programs That Work and Real World Training Design, says she has had different mentors who guided her throughout her career on different specific areas.
After she graduated from University of Maryland-Baltimore in 2003 for undergrad, and in 2005 with a masters in institutional systems design, Labin managed an associate degree program at Stratford University, before moving into leadership development consulting.
“The one mentor with all the answers doesn’t exist and we do ourselves a disservice thinking that,” Labin says.
“The African Proverb, ‘If you want to go fast, go alone if you want to go far, go together,’ has resonated with me on this journey,” business coach Ashley Stahl writes in Forbes. “In fact, the key to my success was hiring mentors and investing in myself as I built my business and sharpened my acumen.”
Samantha Skelly, CEO and founder of Hungry For Happiness and Pause Breathwork, tells Forbes, “Something that is important to me when hiring mentors is ensuring you respect and value them in all areas of life, I believe who we are in one area is who we show up as in all areas.”
Mentorship for women business owners and entrepreneurs is also big business. Mastercard recently announced a partnership with Create & Cultivate for the launch of the Mastercard Women’s Business Advisory Council, according to the Associated Press.
“Mentoring both women and men is worth the investment in time and resources, “Wendy Murphy associate professor of management at Babson College and author of Strategic Relationships at Work, writes in Harvard Business Review. “We know that mentoring relationships are mutually beneficial, meaning that both mentors and protégés reap rewards.”
Mentorship is a key component in the mission of Take The Lead, and the 9 Leadership Power Tools as created by Gloria Feldt, Take The Lead co-founder and president.
“Apply the three movement building principles of Sister Courage (be a sister, act with courage, put them together to create a PLAN) and you will realize your vision at work, at home, or in public life,” Feldt writes.
Quality mentorship and the design of mentorship programs is what drives Labin. After working for Aerotek, Labin founded TERP Associates, which was recently acquired by MentorcliQ, a cloud-based program that uses the same algorithms that a dating app would use but to make the most synergistic connection for a mentor and mentee within an organization.
Organizations purchase the program for their employees, and employees are matched internally with leadership in the company. Some companies have external mentors, such as health systems. Labin says, but more are internal with the seven-year-old company.
Being a good mentor and finding a good mentor require intentionality and deliberate action, Labin says. Here are five of her best tips for making the most of a mentoring relationship.
Be purposeful and mindful in all interactions. As a mentor, this means keeping scheduled appointments, not being distracted by the phone or email during meetings and also planning ahead with questions and input. As a mentee, this also means keeping appointments, being accountable to questions and assignments and being mindful and attentive during calls and meetings.
Build trust. “We think because we are trustworthy, this will come with the territory,” Labin says. But trust requires being attentive and reliable in each encounter.
Set goals. As a mentor, this means offering the mentee specific strategic goals to reach, then assessing progress and giving and receiving feedback. As a mentee, this mean also setting and meeting these reachable goals, being accountable to your own progress and offering genuine feedback on the input.
Do not assume mentoring happens naturally. “People think if they are a good person, honest and seeking help, these relationships will form naturally and progress. This is occasionally true, but it must be intentional,” Labin says.
Be specific. Labin says this requires being intentional in goal setting and feedback, and not offering a vague “compliment sandwich.” Labin adds, ‘Women know when we are being played with a compliment and it feels terrible. I don’t think there is anything biological that says women take feedback differently, but for women these relationships thrive when they are balanced with social and business aspects.”
Do not rely on default behaviors. Being a good leader is not the same as being a good mentor. A successful executive with 1000 employees cannot just walk into a room with a mentor in the same way. The mentor needs to “be present, mindful and directly help that person, by asking good questions and not being judgmental,” Labin says. And for a mentee, it cannot be a passive receipt of advice.
Be curious and be vulnerable. A good mentor as well as a good mentee wants to learn about the other person and offer authentic input and feedback. “The power dynamic has to be broken down to be successful,” Labin says.
Take time to prioritize the relationship. Know this will take a few hours a month. Commit to that and do not cancel at the last minute. And be honest about mistakes for both the mentor and the mentee. Be consistent, Labin says.
Be able to finish the relationship successfully. For both the mentor and mentee, this means not just letting the clock run out on the relationship, but see it through for meeting the goals and giving the feedback. Set a specific destination and timeframe and work to meet it, Labin says.
Labin has had long term, successful mentoring relationships, and one mentor has helped her in publishing her books and guiding her career. She has also been a successful mentor herself.
“I put the responsibility mostly on the mentee,” Labin says. “ I ask them to send me specifics about what they are trying to improve.” Some have not responded and others have said it is not a good fit. “But they have to set the goals.”
She adds, “It is my responsibility to be proactive, communicate and follow up. I am not here to be the sage on the stage,” Labin says, ‘”I just want to communicate I am in their corner.”
About the Author
Michele Weldon is editorial director of Take The Lead, an award-winning author, journalist, emerita faculty in journalism at Northwestern University and a senior leader with The OpEd Project. @micheleweldon www.micheleweldon.com