So you’ve been asked to be someone’s mentor, one of the first questions you probably have is, well why? What is the purpose of a mentoring relationship? Here are some ideas of what the purpose might be for this mentoring relationship. I said it that way because there’s not one single purpose of a mentoring relationship, the purposes can change depending on what the needs are. Speaking of needs, the main purpose of any mentoring relationship is really whatever the needs of the mentee are.
Now if they’ve come to you and asked you for the relationship, they probably have an idea of what their own needs are. If your boss has asked you to be a mentor to a new person, then your boss should be able to tell you what the purpose of the mentoring relationship is. Without understanding what the purpose is, or the needs of the mentee are, it will probably be hard to hit the target. Some specific reasons that someone might ask for a mentoring relationship might include, general career progression. I feel stuck in my career, and I don’t know how to move on to the levels that you’ve been able to move on to. Or perhaps, in my career, I’ve been faced with some very difficult decisions. I’m at a crossroads, and I don’t know if I should go in this direction or that direction. You’ve obviously had the same issue in your career, and you’ve chosen a path, and you seem to be pretty successful, I would love to get some mentoring from you to help me understand how I should address this crossroads that I’m at. On the other hand, maybe I don’t have any specific career progression in mind, or I’m not faced with any big decisions right now, but I know I need to improve on certain things. I don’t feel like I’m getting the right help from people around me, and it seems like you would be a great person to help me understand how I can make those improvements in my life.
These are three reasons why someone might come to you and ask for a mentoring relationship. I might feel like I don’t have the right environment, whether it’s work colleagues or friends outside of work, there’s no safe environment where I can go to someone and say, look, I have these problems, I’m working through these issues, I need someone to help me. The mentor is that safe environment. If you have a safe environment, that’s awesome, and I’m happy for you, but a lot of people don’t have that safe environment, where they feel comfortable being vulnerable and risking some things without worrying about whether it will affect their career right now. Another purpose of the mentoring relationship is that the mentee can learn from your experiences. That isn’t to say that you have arrived, that you’ve done everything that you want to do in your career, maybe you’re just a few steps ahead of them, but you’re still more experienced than they are. The mentee might think that the purpose of the mentoring relationship is that you can make good introductions to them in a company or in an industry. Generally, that’s appropriate, and expected in a mentoring relationship.
I remember one of my first formal mentoring relationships, where I would go to my mentor, and ask this person for advice. I had a number of decisions that I was trying to work through, and instead of giving me the right answer, he would guide me with a series of questions, to help me learn how to think about the questions and think myself to the right answer. To be honest with you, it was quite frustrating, but when we stopped our relationship, I realized how valuable it was that he helped me think through problems at a higher level than I was used to. In other words, you’re not just trying to give your mentee a quick fix so that they can move on, you’re trying to prepare them so that they can think about how to solve problems down the road when you’re not in the picture any more. One of the reasons people mentor or ask for a mentor is to enrich professional relationships. Can you imagine going into your first job and being paired up with someone who is more senior, someone who had more experience in the organization, and people knew that person? Now you have an in with that person, and they’re introducing you to their colleagues?
What a great way to network internally. Another reason why people get into a mentoring relationship, especially as a mentor, is because it really gives you a chance for personal growth, in a different way than you might be accustomed to. What a great opportunity to work on your soft skills, by having a mentee that you can work with, not only will they grow, but I’m sure that you’ll grow too.