Your Career Compass: Mentorship

  •   November 2, 2017
  •  Mary M. Wheeler, Partner, donnerwheeler

Welcome the fourth and final article in this series. Over the past three articles I have introduced you to the Donner-Wheeler Career Planning and Development Model, scanning, assessing, visioning, planning and marketing. I recommended that having or being a mentor is one strategy to achieve your career goals. This article will provide an overview of mentorship and mentorship relationships.

The term mentoring comes from Greek mythology. Mentor in his old age, was a trusted friend, counsellor and teacher of Odysseus. When Odysseus left for the Trojan War he placed Mentor in charge of his son Telemachus, and of his palace as protector and nurturer until his return.

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 one must be motivated and committed to participate, working to grow the relationship through a willingness to learn and share. Mentoring relationships that succeed are contingent upon three factors:

  • The match is aligned with career goals
  • There is a relationship chemistry
  • There is knowledge/process on “how to” build a successful relationship

Who the mentee chooses as their mentor is based on their learning/career goals. Mentors can come from within or outside one’s profession. One can have many mentors over the span of a career. While the focus of the mentoring relationship is on the goals of the mentee, it is likewise important for mentors to have a clear understanding of their goals as this will influence the role and approach used by the mentor.

How do I find a mentor?

One approach to selecting a mentor is through a formal program, generally in an organization where there is a pre-selected pool of candidates to choose from who have registered for the program and there is a systematic method for matching mentors and mentees. These programs generally offer a range of resources to enable the mentor-mentee relationship to flourish. Formal programs have traditionally been geared towards succession planning within the organization but that is changing to a broader application as a strategy to support ongoing professional development for all employees.

If you don’t have access to a formal program, you could seek a mentor informally by making a request of anyone who you think could help you to achieve your goals. You could approach a person who has taught or supervised you, but it should be someone with whom you can develop a relationship. Look for someone 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. Don’t be hesitant. This is an opportunity for you and for the mentor. 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, seek out another mentor.

How can I make an offer to be a mentor?

If you want to help others to develop, you are ready to consider being a mentor. Mentoring gives you an opportunity to contribute to your profession and/or society by developing others and helping them expand their networks. You can be a mentor in a formal program or informally. For informal mentorship, 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. It doesn’t take much more than the desire to develop and sustain your own leadership skills while helping someone else develop their skills. In addition, if your organization has a formal mentorship program consider putting your name forward to be part of the mentor pool.

In the relationship, the role of the mentor is to lead the conversations, set the pace, review progress and encourage, support and challenge the mentee. The role of the mentee is to take action to achieve goals, reflect on progress and share successes, challenges and new questions as they emerge. Whatever role you play, remember a successful mentorship relationship is founded on mutual trust, shared values, interests, commitment, respect, and excellent communication skills. The relationship should be mutually beneficial. Mentors are able to 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. For the mentee, acquiring a mentor can provide them with the additional support and guidance necessary to achieve their career goals. The mentor is more experienced, has good connections and can access information more readily than a less experienced mentee.

Mentoring is just one strategy for career and professional development. Career development is not static, but rather a dynamic process; as you move through your career, your knowledge and skills develop, your needs change, and your goals and plans evolve. Mentorship is a means to enable you to grow personally and professionally. Look around you, reach out and offer to become a mentor, or ask for one. Amazing journeys begin with the simple decision to go forward. Good luck.

Tips on How to Build a Successful Mentorship Relationship*

  • Articulate the purpose for the mentorship relationship.

What is the career goal that 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 can include defining 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, how you will achieve your career 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?

Physiotherapy Alberta began its discussion of career planning with the goal of supporting members in their efforts to continue to grow through their professional lives. Over the years we have heard from members who felt that their opportunities to progress in their careers were limited, and from others who felt uncertain about how to approach a career change. We have also heard confusing statistics that suggest that physiotherapists are very satisfied with their work, but also that they tend to leave the profession within 10 years of entry. Your Career Compass is aimed at helping you find a way forward: providing the tools to actively map out a career path, inspiring you with the success stories of others, and encouraging you to consider seeking out a mentor to support you on your journey. Our goal is to encourage you in your efforts to build a career you enjoy. Best of luck on your journey!


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