Often in my work I am asked about the role of mentors. Mentorship holds a lot of value and I would never call out a well-thought out mentoring program when the time, effort and resources have been put into place to make that happen. However, what many tend to forget is that sourcing what we need for our own development is always in our hands, whether your organization provides a formal mentoring/development program or not.
The ideals of mentorship make it popular, it offers the possibility of receiving guidance beyond the “business”, providing support in the relational field; navigating office politics, internal networking and helping to increase an individual’s visibility within an organization. That is a tall order for one relationship to deliver on, and before entering into it you should check your assumptions at the door. Mentors act as impartial, impassioned observers. They are not going to be able to help you with something in yourself you cannot yet see, for that a more focused path of development designed around building self-awareness would be beneficial. Checking a box to say you have a mentor won’t make it a fulfilling relationship unless you take accountability for making it meaningful (even when you and your mentor don’t seem to have that perfect “fit” together – relationships of every kind take effort to work). Mentoring isn’t a “magic bullet”, the mentoring relationships you witness others being thankful for (in speeches and in books) are built around individuals who are firmly grounded in owning their development, being self-aware of what growth they needed, learning how others perceived them, and how they may have been standing in their own way. These individuals also thank a lot of people; a mentor is but one of many.
In other words, it takes a village. Development with the assistance of others happens organically every day. Seek a mentor, by why stop at only one? Find people to connect with who hold experiences beyond your own, who have navigated problems and paths you have yet to cross. Meet with them once or often, it doesn’t matter as long as you are open-minded. These individuals will look different then you do, have experienced life in a different way than you, they may even be younger then you are. They will express themselves in ways that may make you laugh, shudder, or make you feel like a slacker. Don’t be complacent choosing to learn from only those who offer comfort and familiarity to you – that is not development - that is confirmation (there is no development in confirmation, although it may seem like it because you feel better when it is present). Mentorship with one individual has a continuity attached to it that allows for a deeper and more intimate professional relationship to take place, but it is not the only professional relationship you need to invest in. Challenge yourself, and in so doing, challenge others. Offer up your gifts, your insights and your experiences. They are valuable, especially when they differ from another persons and you are willing to share them without prejudice, with heart-felt compassion…and from a place where you build shared understanding.
Development is working with someone who will challenge your thinking. If you are lucky you may receive mentorship from someone who can do that, but one person alone cannot be solely responsible for your development (beyond accepting responsibility for this yourself). Unless you are willing to own your own development, it won’t progress in any meaningful way. Development requires you to put yourself out into the world, being prepared to hear things you’d rather not, receive opinions as well as facts. With development you source your own gurus and teachers, build your own network to call on when you need a different perspective. Through all of these conversations you will need to figure out what is important to action, and what is not. This is development through others and through self.