The Importance of a Strong Mentoring Relationship

Contributed by Cynthia Simpson

We know, through extensive research, that mentoring is an important component for sustained career success. An effective mentoring relationship can influence professional development which can lead to increased employee performance and knowledge sharing, often for both the mentor and mentee. Although a short conversation or interaction with someone to provide advice may be considered mentoring, this article will discuss various aspects related to a longer-term mentoring relationship.

A necessary first step in developing a fruitful mentoring relationship requires introspection. Although possibly painful at times, it is imperative and an intrinsic part of your journey through life and career. It is important to note that one mentor cannot meet all of the needs of a mentee. Understanding what you hope to gain from entering into a mentoring relationship will assist in finding the right mentor to address the very specific needs as identified through introspection.

An effective mentoring relationship will successfully build upon your ongoing process of introspection and reflection. Through the mentoring process, you will have the ability to understand the forces that surround you which, in turn, will assist you in developing essential conflict-handling skills. Mentors will provide you with the means of understanding and assessing organizational cultures, customs, and structures, often referred to as the “unwritten rules”. It is extremely important to understand what it is that you would hope to gain from your mentor which is why this period of introspection is so very important in ensuring the success of the mentoring relationship. 

two women at a laptop
Photo by Kobu Agency on Unsplash

Mentors can also help mentees to enhance their skills and abilities in very specific areas, particularly those as identified during the process of introspection. Mentors can assist in recognizing the strengths and weaknesses that you have and provide guidance as you work to address those areas of concern. Mentors can also help you to assess your goals and how they “stack up” with the current reality you are facing. Reaching out to a few individuals that you have identified to set up an initial meeting to determine the feasibility of entering in to a mentoring relationship would be your next step (remember, not everyone will want to serve as a mentor, so identifying various individuals to serve as mentors is important).

Once mentors (it is always good to have more than one) have been identified and there is agreement to enter in to a mentoring relationship, establishing the ground rules of what will be discussed during each meeting, the frequency of the meetings, and an understanding of what both the mentor and mentee will receive from the mentoring relationship will help to make the mentoring relationship much more beneficial and meaningful. During this process, it is also critical to acknowledge the feelings, beliefs, values, and attitudes of both the mentor and mentee. Understanding what is and is not acceptable to discuss as part of the mentoring relationship must be defined and respected by both parties.

As the mentoring relationship continues, it is important for the mentor and mentee to be honest with each other in a thoughtful manner. Recognizing that all actions, whether good or bad, will often have consequences and talking through various scenarios may help in working out the solution to a problem that you are facing. For both the mentor and mentee, having an appropriate sense of humor may help to keep things in perspective, although it is important to never embarrass your mentor or mentee or put them in an awkward position.

Over time, the structure of the relationship will begin to change. Both the mentor and mentee may wish to reassess the value of the relationships which may lead to a redefinition of the mentoring relationship. Often changes occur due to structural, geographic, or psychological reasons. As the relationship is redefined, one option may be to end the mentoring relationship. Closure can be a learning experience for both parties and acknowledgement of what was accomplished, as well as any outstanding goals, will be beneficial for both parties as you move forward and enter into other mentoring relationships.

Mentors and mentees may elect to remain in touch and eventually will come to recognize each other as peers and colleagues. As you move forward with your career, other mentors will assist in helping you to develop the skills that are needed as well as potentially opening up doors which will lead to further success. It is important to remember that the lessons that you learn are then passed down to others that you will mentor as part of a successful mentoring relationship. Mentoring is a continuous cycle where you reap the rewards as being both a mentor and mentee and are able to positively impact the lives of those who you interact with over time.

AWIS logoCynthia Simpson, M.Ed, CAE, is the Chief Business Development Officer with the Association for Women in Science and a National Champions Board Member for the National Girls Collaborative.