Mentorship Guidebook: Planning for Success

  •   February 7, 2019

In our previous discussions about career planning, we have recommended that having or being a mentor is one strategy to employ to achieve your career goals. As work begins on Physiotherapy Alberta’s new mentorship project, the Mentorship Guidebook, it’s time to revisit what mentorship and mentorship relationships are.

What is mentorship?

Mentorship is traditionally a long-term relationship in which someone with more experience and wisdom (mentor) supports and encourages another (mentee/protégé) as that individual grows and develops professionally and personally. Reverse mentorship and peer mentorship are also common models. Reverse mentorship is when a more junior person mentors a more experienced colleague and peer mentorship is where individuals with common characteristics are grouped together.

No matter what the configuration, mentorship is a communication strategy that enables individuals to engage in conversations and relationships directed at enhancing career satisfaction, professional development, and ultimately practice.

As in any relationship, to be successful both parties must be motivated and committed to participate, working to grow the relationship through a willingness to learn and share. Mentoring relationships that succeed share three key features:

  • The match is aligned with career goals.
  • There is a relationship chemistry.
  • There is knowledge of the process of how to build a successful relationship.

Goal alignment

Mentees choose their mentors based on their learning/career goals. A mentor may come from within or outside of your profession depending on what you are trying to achieve and who is most likely to be able to help. Acquiring a mentor can provide you with the additional support and guidance necessary to achieve your career goals. The mentor is more experienced, has good connections and can access information more readily than a less experienced mentee. Mentees may have many different mentors over the span of a career as goals are achieved, new goals established, and new mentors with different skills sought out.

While the focus of the mentoring relationship is primarily on the goals of the mentee, it is important for mentors to also have a clear understanding of their goals, as this will influence the role and approach they use. The relationship should be mutually beneficial. Mentors share their knowledge, expertise and wisdom and also learn from the mentee. Access to new knowledge, different perspectives, and newer generational issues are among some of the bonuses for the mentor.

Within the relationship, the mentor’s role is to lead conversations, set the pace, review progress, encourage, support, and challenge the mentee. The mentee’s role is to act to achieve goals, reflect on progress, and share successes, challenges and new questions as they emerge.

In some cases, mentorship relationships are established through formal matching programs that pair mentors and mentees based on their personality traits, organizational roles and goals. Such formal programs generally exist in organizations where there is a pre-selected pool of candidates to choose from who have registered or enrolled in the mentorship program. Formal programs have traditionally been geared towards succession planning within organizations and generally offer a range of resources to enable the mentor-mentee relationship to flourish. However, these formal programs are increasingly available to a broader range of employees and are being used as a strategy to engage with and support ongoing professional development of employees.

The mentorship relationship

You don’t need to have access to a formal program to find a mentor. You can seek a mentor informally by making a request of anyone you think could help you to achieve your goals, such as someone who has taught or supervised you. Whether formally matched or not, your mentor should be someone with whom you can develop a relationship. Seek a mentor who is generally well respected and has patience, enthusiasm, and a sense of humor. Make sure the mentor’s leadership style is a good fit with your own and that your potential mentor has the time and willingness to devote to you, along with the skills to advise, teach and coach that fit with your learning style.

Conversely, if you are ready to help others to develop but don’t have access to a formal mentor matching program, you can still become a mentor. Pay attention to colleagues who you think could benefit from support and start offering your help. Take a less experienced colleague with you to attend a board or committee meeting. Nominate a colleague who is ready for advancement for a leadership opportunity and offer coaching and support along the way. Or write an article with a less experienced colleague or support someone who wants to publish a paper. Mentoring gives you an opportunity to contribute to your profession, organization and/or society by developing others and helping them to expand their networks. It doesn’t take much more than the desire to develop and sustain your own leadership skills while helping someone else develop their skills. If your organization does have a formal mentorship program, consider putting your name forward to be part of the mentor pool.

Don’t be hesitant to approach potential mentors or mentees. Remember that this is an opportunity for both parties. Whatever role you play, remember that a successful mentorship relationship is founded on mutual trust, shared values, interests, commitment, respect, and excellent communication skills. Over time, the relationship may grow into one that is more collegial.

If you find you need someone with other skills or a different learning style, or if the relationship “fit” just isn’t there, seek out another mentor/mentee.

The process of building a successful mentorship relationship

  • Articulate the purpose for the mentorship relationship.

What career goal led you to seek a mentoring relationship and how will the relationship help you to achieve this goal?

  • Find the right relationship.

Who has/is looking for the knowledge, skills or experience that best matches your goal/ talents? Remember to look around you, inside and outside your profession. Then make a request or make an offer.

  • Define the scope of the relationship.

Develop a mentoring relationship agreement that includes defined expectations of each party, how issues will be addressed, and logistics (i.e., frequency of meeting, timing, method etc.), then create a mentoring action plan articulating how you will achieve your goals.

  • Implement the plan and evaluate the progress of the relationship.

This includes setting aside time after each conversation for reflection on what you are learning and how the relationship is evolving. Journaling is a great tool to help you track your progress.

  • End the relationship.

Take time to mark the end of the relationship whether celebrating accomplishments or acknowledging that the relationship is not working. Regardless of the circumstances, what have you learned along the way? Would you do anything different in your next mentoring relationship?

At this point you probably have a good idea of why you want to find or become a mentor. You may even have one or two potential mentors or mentees in mind, people with whom you feel you would be able to build effective, mutually beneficial mentor-mentee relationships. In the coming months this article series will go into greater detail about how to go about engaging with these individuals and the process of building mentoring relationships that help you to achieve your professional goals, whether as the mentor or the mentee.

You will also find additional resources about mentorship, including a video overview of mentorship and a webinar discussing the process of building a mentorship relationship in greater detail.

*This article has been adapted from The Five-Phase Mentorship Model© by Cooper, M. & Wheeler, M.  2007