When you hear the word “mentor,” what comes to mind? Most people think of a senior executive taking a younger person “under their wing” and teaching them the ins and outs of the business. In this vision, the seasoned veteran teaches the rookie how to survive and thrive, in order to help the novice succeed and progress in management. However, that traditional view doesn’t quite capture today’s reality, in which the mentor/mentee relationship takes on many guises. Executive women mentor younger women, seasoned workers mentor new employees, and in a turnaround from the standard model, younger workers mentor older workers who are new to the organization, or new to a field such as technology. There are numerous possibilities.
You should consider it an honor if you’re asked to mentor someone, but what do you do if you feel unprepared for the role? You’ve been approached with an opportunity to be a mentor and you wonder if you should. You need to ask yourself if you have what it takes to fulfill the significant responsibilities of mentorship.
A mentor may be rightfully concerned about taking on the responsibility of a mentoring relationship. Problems to overcome may include gender differences, generational differences, socio-economic differences, and any other area that affects how well you might relate to your mentee. For example, a thirty-year-old might wonder if she could productively mentor a fifty-year-old new employee. These are genuine concerns, but they should not stop you in your tracks. Going forward with the relationship is a decision that’s up to the individuals entering into the relationship. If either the mentor or the mentee is uncomfortable with the combination of personalities, then don’t proceed.
If you take on a mentoring relationship, there may well be some hiccups as you lay the groundwork. Don’t be discouraged. But further along, if you get into the relationship and there’s a problem (such as; you dislike the person, or they don’t respect the relationship, or no one is learning), then you should discontinue working together. Explain that value has to be derived from the relationship and if no one is getting anything from the process, it’s a waste of time to keep going. If you have to say “It’s not working,” don’t be shy about it.
Do you have what it takes to be a mentor? Are you a good listener? Are you organized? Are you empathetic and honest? Are you willing to apply yourself and are you interested in learning? If the answer is “no” to any of these questions, you may want to leave the mentoring to someone else.