As the mentoring coordinator for Momentum, I have our mentors and mentees complete a few questionnaires about their experience along the way. Recently I received a response from Momentum alumna and Mentor, Jennifer Buettner, I was inspired to share her mentoring philosophy with others.
Jennifer is the Executive Director of the Birmingham Bar Association and a very active member in our community. I asked her about the value of mentoring:
“I am committed to the advancement of women in all areas of our society; I have 20+ years of non-profit board service; I seek out mentors for myself; I love to “pay it forward” by mentoring others.”
One could imagine that the value of a mentoring relationship is realized entirely be the mentee–that the mentor “gives” and the mentee “receives.” In fact, we more often observe that mentoring is a two-way street in terms of value:
“As a mentor I always learn things about myself [from my mentee.] You see yourself through the perception of the mentee. Age doesn’t matter. Everybody brings something valuable to the relationship. It’s a mutual exchange of energy and self-improvement. “
Women often come to us feeling like they have nowhere to turn for guidance. Based on my conversation with Jennifer and the Momentum Team, we notice they may be overlooking precious resources right in front of them. Here are Jennifer’s top tips for identifying and reaching out to a mentor:
- If it’s your first mentor, look for a mentor with a similar personality to yours. You already share similarities that make it easier to communicate.
- Look for somebody who is where you want to be.
- Identify someone who has a skill-set you want to improve or develop; always be in tune with the focus areas where you want more guidance.
- Do your homework, there is work involved. Be prepared, take initiative, and follow-through. It shouldn’t be a lot of work for the mentor.
- It’s never too early to start a mentoring relationship.
- Look within your organization. There’s a wealth of “people resources” available to you. Determine your comfort level with those you work for and with.
- Look outside of your organization for confidentiality and a different perspective.
- Make the ask. Even if they’re not available, they may refer you to someone who is.
Jennifer shared, “Some people think there’s a magical formula, there’s not.” Instead of using the “M” word (i.e. “would you be my Mentor?”) she recommends a “get to know you” conversation. This has been very effective for Jennifer throughout her career. As she started making those initial requests, she discovered people are flattered that you want to get to know them. People love talking about their experiences and sharing insights with others.
Time matters. Whether you meet virtually, or for coffee, be sure to discuss what works best for you both. Using this approach is helpful in allowing the relationship to grow organically. It’s a relationship where two people are comfortable talking; it doesn’t feel forced since it evolves naturally. Be honest with each other and share ways to improve, for both mentee and mentor.
Prepare for the meeting. Prepare for your meeting in advance by pulling together a list of your focus areas. Being prepared allows you more time to ask your questions. Once the meeting has ended, the potential mentor candidate may say, this is great, how about we meet again? Or, you may learn you don’t have the right chemistry. If it went well, share why and what you learned. No matter how it goes, follow-up with a note of gratitude for their time. Propose another meeting, perhaps one month out.
Recognize opportunities outside of “work” that may help you grow professionally. Expand your pool of potential mentor candidates by seeking board service or community involvement that aligns with your passion. Fellow board members may be willing to serve or can help you connect to someone who has a skillset that aligns with your needs. Ask around. Use your networks and connections in the community.
There’s effort in initiating and maintaining a valuable mentoring relationship, but the return on the investment is well worth it!