There’s no direct path to success. Reaching our goals takes time, perseverance and hard work. But the road to achievement is a little easier to travel with mentors.
When set up right, these relationships help mentees expand their skill sets, gain new perspectives and advance their careers. In effect, they serve as “personal boards of directors,” ideally with different mentors guiding individuals in specific areas or stages of life. At the same time, mentors get to sharpen their leadership capabilities, communication and empathy for others.
Like any partnership, mentoring comes with expectations, and not always realistic ones. As I’ve learned through City Year Little Rock’s Women Leadership Council, it’s essential to lay a few ground rules before getting started:
1. Make a schedule. Mentoring isn’t and shouldn’t be a 24/7 job. Be clear about the total time commitment on the front end, including setting an agreed-upon period for the relationship. Pre-determined meetings should be held as calendars permit and can be formal or casual. If the mentor or mentee wants to continue to meet beyond the initial period, both parties must agree on the framework of the extended relationship.
2. Set goals. Does the mentee want to obtain specific skills, or are they seeking counsel on potential job opportunities? We can’t assume others can read our minds. Every mentoring relationship needs clear objectives. Otherwise, it’s not a good use of either party’s time or resources. Once advisors know their mentees’ goals, they can provide more concrete and detailed feedback.
3 Establish trust. Mentoring relationships are built on mutual respect and open communication. Both individuals must commit to offering a nonjudgmental and confidential space for expressing thoughts, concerns and questions. Mentorship is about active listening, where both sides feel engaged and empowered.
Agreeing to be a mentor or mentee is simply the first step. With these three rules as our guide, we can foster more effective relationships to meet our own or others’ targets, whether helping an AmeriCorps member advance their career post-service or encouraging a colleague to pursue an advanced degree.
Creshelle Nash, MD, MPH, CHIE, is the medical director for Health Equity and Public Programs for Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield. She co-chairs the Women’s Leadership Council, a mentorship program for City Year Little Rock’s female AmeriCorps members.