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How to Develop a Healthy Mentoring Relationship

How to Develop a Healthy Mentoring Relationship

Why Mentoring is Misunderstood

As one of a small number of women entrepreneur CEOs in bio/health tech and services, mentoring, primarily of Millennials, is part of my volunteer agenda.

During the process of mentoring, I have learned as well as offered advice. First, I learned how broad the term mentoring is. I believe people are so unclear about mentoring and what they want out of it because it is is an old concept recently modernized. When I started my career, no one discussed mentoring. There were no formal programs. It existed on an exclusive basis. At the heart of it, mentoring is about two people sharing career knowledge and offering support. 

[Related: The Key to Becoming a Successful Mentor]

Traditionally, it began with a friendship, which could be based on hobbies or a shared community. Mentor and mentee share mutual respect, enjoy spending time together, and want to see each other succeed. Only a few lucky people found mentors because it occurred by chance as friendships do. Women found it challenging to identify mentors because the majority of people at the Executive Level of their careers who mentor have been men. This was true during much of my career development. Mentoring of a young woman by an older man is often loaded with additional baggage and tension resulting in few of these relationships occurring.

What About Inequality of Mentoring for Women?

More recently, mentoring has become more programmatic, in some ways artificial, as the mentoring process is ramped up to an industrial scale. In part, this has been done to address the inequitability that women experienced related to mentoring. This led to a confusion about what mentoring is. Once mentoring became higher volume, organized and designed by a corporation or other entity, it was no longer possible for all mentoring relationships to be friendships. Thus, we arrived at levels of mentoring ranging from one time advice all the way to traditional friendship-based mentoring. These programs are the best way for most people to gain access to a mentor outside of friends and family. Most of my mentees find me through college or university programs.

My Mentoring Methods: The Drama About Millennials

With each person I mentor one-on-one, I begin with a series of questions to discover what that person needs and wants, what is their current situation, and what are their goals. Why is there such drama about mentoring Millennials? I blame this on news articles or marketing concepts, lumping them under categories like self-centered, thinking only of their own interests, expecting too much from an employer. Any goals or changes in their situation brought up in conversation are colored by this lens. Being realistic, mentoring is about individuals. Is being a Millennial even relevant in a mentoring relationship? In my perspective, it really is not. What is more relevant is whether or not the mentor and mentee have a general alignment on their goals and work perspective. You can be entrepreneurial in any generation. You can prefer working for a large company in any generation.

[Related: Why You Should Build Your Mentor Network]

What Baby Boomers and Gen Xers Should Know

The only real impact generational mindset plays in mentoring is a potential to cause a shortage of strong mentor and mentee match-ups. If there are larger numbers of entrepreneurial Millennials and small numbers of entrepreneurial Baby Boomers or Generation Xers then Millennials will have to look harder for a mentor who fits their interests, personality and style. The shortage could be lessened if people in the Baby Boomer or Generation X groups who are not entrepreneurial minded or don’t have similar goals, stretch themselves to mentor someone with a different mindset from their own. They may be motivated to do this for family member or son or daughter of a friend. Personally, I feel mentors should stretch, because then they can access that vital element every mentor gets out of the relationship: learning new things, being shaken out of complacency, renewing their passion. Not everyone is comfortable pushing their boundaries. Not everyone can do it.

[Related: How to Avoid Being Stuck with the Wrong Mentor]

Why Entrepreneurs Make Good Mentors

Entrepreneurs are particularly well-suited to be mentors because we live for the thrill of shaking things up. Status quo is what kills us. However, we do have to temper our laser focus on our own projects to take on the new project of mentoring. When we do, we have the opportunity to become involved in other potentially exciting projects and see a dream come alive. Because it is challenging for women to find mentors, we need to be aware and find ways to facilitate relationships when feasible. As more women reach Executive Level in their careers, the mentoring gap will begin to close if women help other women.

What Mentees Need to Know

One-on-one mentoring is extremely time-consuming. Mentors appreciate receiving thank you notes for their time. Additionally, mentees should watch for chances to provide value to their mentors. This is the most neglected aspect of mentoring. If you want a one-time advice session to lead to a more in-depth relationship, you will stand out and show you appreciate the help you received by sending a hand written note or, at the very least, an email. Friendship is a two way street. One sided friendships generally do not last and may, in worse cases, lead to burned bridges if you constantly tap your mentor for advice, but give nothing back.

How can you develop healthy mentoring relationships? First be open to them. Realize they are important at all career levels and, if you want to be mentored, good karma is created when you act as mentor for those lower on the career ladder. Be clear about what you want or expect or can give in the relationship. If that is one time advice, that still counts. Discuss and agree on what the mentoring will involve so both parties are clear. Never forget, give and take is ultimately what mentoring is about.

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Candice M Hughes, PhD, MBA, is CEO/Founder of biotech/pharma consulting firm, Hughes BioPharma Advisers, and develops digital health tools via AdapTac Games. She is the author of the Small Business Rocket Fuel series. You can follow her @candicemhughes.


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