From an early stage in my career, I learned to be grateful and to recognize the people who could help me unlock my true potential. My secondary school years at the Loreto College of Rose-hill marks the time when I became aware of the importance of mentorship. As part of the school's career guidance, students had a subject fair, where they could get counsel from teachers before the selection of their O-level subjects (10th grade). I knew that I wanted to join the science field, but biology was the bane of my existence. Thus, I planned to select only physics and chemistry, but one teacher was adamant that I should take on all three sciences. He argued that if I did not like chemistry or physics, I would not have any alternative at my A-level. I strongly disagreed because I knew there was no way that I would love biology. Yet, I half-heartedly decided to do it because I trusted his experience and advice.
By the end of my O-level, I decided to drop physics and choose only biology and chemistry as my main subject. I completed my secondary school with an A* in Biology, and I choose to do my undergraduate degree in biology. This teacher is the perfect illustration of good mentorship. His ability to guide my decisions tremendously shaped my future and led me to my career path. I decided to heed his advice because I trusted his expertise. I also knew that he had my best interest at heart. From that point onwards, I've had several people in my life that gave me the right advice at the right time. Some were friends, some were colleagues, and some were family. Yet, they all had something in common. They were all people that I trusted for help. Finding these people is crucial if you want to have a successful career.
Nevertheless, finding and selecting someone to be your mentor is not always an easy task. Even if you already have a mentor, it does not necessarily mean that he/she is right for you. Mentorship is crucial to your career progression. Every successful person has at least one mentor. Hence, you must learn to recognize the traits of effective mentorship in others and yourself. This is an invaluable asset to your professional and personal life.
To help you with this search, I will share with you my top six attributes of a good mentor. Before I delve into these attributes, let's briefly talk about who can be your mentor?
A mentor is not necessarily a certified life coach or someone who is going to stick by you for the rest of your life. Mentorship is more about the behavior than the traits or position of the person. A friend, a colleague, a teacher, or even a stranger, can become your mentor. Mentorship is not only about long-term interaction but also about the quality of the communication and the impact that interaction can have on you. Throughout my career, I've had numerous mentors that have guided me and helped me progress. I can now recognize some of the critical qualities of good mentorship. Let's look at the 5 behaviors associated with good mentorship:
1) Listens actively and asks the right question
Anyone who knows me can tell you that I am a very talkative person. It can be quite tedious to listen to what I have to say in its entirety. Yet, this is the primary role of a good mentor. Mentors should be active listeners that know when to make pertinent and relevant comments and suggestions.
You need someone who can give you their undivided attention when you engage in a conversation. I have experience with a mentor that had such a hectic schedule that it was barely possible to meet with him. When I was successful in setting up a meeting, his mind was being pulled in a million directions.
How then do you recognize someone who is a good listener? Well, start by being a good listener yourself. Be in tune and really try to see what someone is telling you beyond their words. Engaging deeply in conversations is the first step to recognize the pattern associated with active listeners. Beyond words, body language is also a powerful indicator of someone's receptivity. Fidgeting, avoidance of eye contact, and fast-talking are correlated to a distracted mind. Be mindful of the behavior of your mentor to get the most of your interactions.
2) Experience = Wisdom
My first job application was probably the most nerve-racking one! My cousin is
my go-to person for tips and advice about resumes and motivation letters. My trust went beyond and above the fact that we were related. She had several years of experience working in the human resource department. Therefore, her expertise in job applications was akin to wisdom. She can pick up on mistakes and inconsistencies so effectively that it is almost baffling.
I have no shame in saying that she proof-read numerous resumes and letters for me. You should also remember that there is no shame in asking for help! Mentors are here to provide guidance from their own professional and personal experience. So pick a mentor that has the relevant experience.
3) Challenges you while supporting you
A mentor is someone who will remind you that you have the potential to succeed. Yet, they should also challenge you to give your maximum. As a field conservation biologist, fieldwork could be very intense with long hours of hiking in the sun. My supervisor and mentor at the time was this amazing woman called Rachel. She is one of the most hard-working and determined women I have ever met. Once, we went bird tracking after an intense morning translocating bird since 5 am. We tracked the birds until 7:30 pm then it took us another two and a half hours to hike back to the station. If it were not for Rachel's energy and support, I would probably not have made it back to the field station.
It was also incredible how much work we managed to do in a day! I was pushed beyond my own limits, but the team effort made the situation more manageable. She was leading by example and never once faltered in her enthusiasm for the work.
Therefore, engage with mentors that will inspire you to give 100% and more of yourself in your career. They should understand how to get the most of you without overworking you. If you feel too pressured by your mentor, you should be comfortable discussing the situation with them. You do not want to burn out, so your mentor should be someone who cares about your welfare.
4) Your success is their success
Mentorship is like building a legacy, and the best mentors will be invested in your success as much as yourself. This is often tricky if you are working in a team and you are offered a better opportunity. It might feel like you are abandoning your team or your mentor, but if your mentor truly believes in you, he/she will understand the importance of accepting the opportunity.
I remember when I decided that I wanted to leave the company I was working for. I felt extremely reluctant to approach my mentor to discuss this thought. Even though I was convinced that it was time for me to learn new skills. This was an unhealthy mentorship since I could sense that my mentor was not going to approve of my departure. If you are working directly with your mentor, you must feel comfortable to have an open and honest conversation on incoming opportunities. If they genuinely care about your success, they will not try to hold you back. Instead, they will give you constructive feedback and support.
5) There is mutual respect
Last but not least, the mentor and mentee relationship is built on trust and RESPECT! There are boundaries to be respected when you have a mentor. You do not have to ask someone formally to be your mentor. Yet, you can make them aware that you would be very humbled if they were willing to give you their counsel. Mentorship should not involve exploitation from either side. Both sides should be mindful of the time and resources being invested in the meetings. Remember that your mentor probably has no obligations to help you and that being thankful is key to the relationship.
A mentor is not a therapist or a counselor, so the focus of your interactions should be the long-range view of your growth and development. Even though they are supposed to challenge you, it is not appropriate for a mentor to belittle you and to make derogatory comments. Overall, both mentor and mentee have the responsibility to maintain a healthy and productive relationship.
I genuinely hope that this blog was useful to you and will give you the necessary indicators for finding the right mentor for you. If you have any questions or comment, please do not hesitate to contact me through my blog and social media. Below is a the link to a short quiz that will help you evaluate your mentor or mentors to determine the strength of your relationship: