In the business world there is a difference between what outsiders or customers believe about the internal operations of a company and how employees view the reality of how things actually operate. I believe knowing who actually makes the decisions, upper management expectations, and what characteristics promote upward mobility in a particular company, are the things that make a mentor invaluable. Mentors can see where you fit in best and where you need improvement. They are able see attributes as well as faults that we may not see or be willing to admit. Mentors are those who are there to provide the truth and not worry about padding your ego; this is all to make mentees better.
I believe my career would have progressed much differently and faster if I had the benefit of a mentor. I learned the unsaid protocols and the importance of making contacts, and how you deal with individuals the hard way. I later learned that sometimes who you know is just as, or more important, than what you know in some industries. I also learned over time that the way you communicate with people varies by the individual. Personalities vary; therefore, your approach toward each person may also need to vary. This is true for peers as well as for supervisors. These are known as soft-skills, which also include decision-making and networking. I wish I had someone to fill those gaps during the beginning of my career. I later met others who had mentors, or influential individuals, during their career and every response seemed to be similar. They all believed their mentors, or influencers, had a major impact on the success of their careers.
Here is an example of when I wished I had a mentor. I was working at my agency headquarters and I knew I wanted to get promoted to a position outside of headquarters. I thought all I needed to do was work hard and create quality programs. I eventually found out that I needed to go beyond this by improving my networking skills within the building and within the outer offices. I needed to be known by the “right” people and have a good reputation among those same individuals. I learned you have to have allies among the decision-makers to get anywhere within my organization. If I had known this earlier, my approach to navigating my career path would have definitely been different.
In order to get and keep mentees on the path to their self-defined success, mentors are there to be encouraging, a sounding board, a trusted advisor, and to nurture the mentee’s personal growth and leadership qualities. Mentors should help mentees realize their potential through candor and tough love to promote self-motivation, self-realization, confidence, and self-discipline. Most of all, mentors are there to share their experiences and keep the mentee from making the same mistakes the mentor made along the way, which become learning lessons without the pain. Mentors are there to help mentees succeed and in return the mentors also benefit because their own skills may improve as a result of the interaction with their mentee. I believe one of the most important aspects of a mentor/mentee relationship is the long-lasting connection that may result from the interactions. A bond that fosters consistent guidance and trust.