Blog post by Whitney Harmel
Whitney Harmel is the director of strategic partnerships at the Maryland Chamber of Commerce. Through her career history and past role as chair of the Emerging Leaders United Council, she has over a decade of sales, leadership, and relationship-building experience.
Any kind of relationship whether romantic, friendly or professional, requires a courtship. It starts with the introduction—perhaps through a friend, or a colleague, LinkedIn or a meet-up group.
Say the intro sparks some chemistry, then there is the question of how long it will last. Will it be a short lived relationship or last the sands of time? Will it ebb and flow as the years pass?
The same can be said for mentorships. Mentorships take on different shapes and sizes, they can evolve over time, crumble and even rekindle. Each type of mentorship presents its own purpose and value and each requires its own unique approach as well. Let’s explore this a little further.
The one date wonder
I was introduced to someone who had a very similar background to me. We had taken similar paths career-wise and she knew I was struggling to find my networking home. She mentored me, for only four months, but she helped get me through a challenging time. I was able to get on the right path, so after that, there was no need for the mentorship anymore.
It was mutual. I was super grateful for the valuable guidance I received during that time. She gave what she could provide, in terms of support, and then we went our separate ways. Simple, easy, and a super valuable experience that really helped me at a time when I really needed it.
Many mentorships are a part of a structured program either through work, school, or other initiatives. The dynamics of these types of mentorships are often highly designed and intentional. Focus is already placed on a set of expectations and guidelines, so the only challenges that these mentorships tend to present are that they come with an end date. If they evolve into something mutually beneficial and valuable, they then take the next steps to making it to a long-term relationship.
Let’s say you are a mentee who has really valued and enjoyed your mentorship that just so happens to be a part of a structured program, the one that comes with an expiration date.
Be bold. Don’t be afraid to ask them to continue the relationship. Be intentional about it. Let your mentor know how much you have valued the learning experience and don’t hesitate to ask if it can continue and if you can keep in touch. Maybe it’s 30 minutes a month? Maybe it’s coffee once a quarter? Discuss a structured schedule that works for you both.
On the flipside, if you’re a mentor who see’s something in someone and you’d like to help them, then extend a hand.
I recently interviewed someone with a great resume, who within 10 minutes, I recognized would not be a great fit for us, nor us for them. I was honest about that and they were gracious for that honesty. But I also saw something in them. I could see they really wanted to learn and grow, so I offered my mentorship. I said I’d be happy to speak with them once a week, on our own private time, but we have to be intentional about what their goals and expectations were for each week, so they’re getting the most out of our time together.
A mentorship is rooted in having trust, mutual respect and, most importantly, set expectations. For a mentorship to succeed and be valuable, it has to be purposeful. Guidelines, goals and expectations are crucial in forming the foundations for a mentorship. A mentorship can take many forms and so can the parameters. Discuss whether it’s going to be weekly, monthly, phone calls, emails, or in-person meet-ups. It may shift from time to time depending on each person’s schedule and that’s okay. The key is to stay in communication, be open, honest and intentional while making sure both parties are mutually respecting the set expectations for the mentorship.
In it for the long haul: 14 years and counting
I feel very fortunate to, plain and simple, have someone who has my back. Having my back sometimes means putting me in my place, telling me I was wrong, and even telling me I could or should have done something better. But it also means guiding me to a solution. Someone who doesn’t judge me for the situation I’m in and helps me get out of that situation.
The relationship has evolved. There are times we go four months without speaking and then there are times where we speak every two or three days. But it doesn’t matter, we pick up the phone and we’re right back where we left off.
I have someone who knows me, has taken the time to get to know me below the surface, has lived through my personal life challenges and has never shied away from asking me how I’m doing. Part of being a mentee is being honest, so if you’re not bringing your true self to the table then that person can’t help you.
It’s also reciprocal.
Mentees can be incredibly valuable to their mentor and that’s how you can create a reciprocal relationship. It doesn’t mean you’re always going have a solution for them, but it does open up the door to you becoming their confidant, and they may really need that, someone they can call and vent to.
The challenge for any mentee is to check-in and see if everyone’s on the same page. Is it still working for both parties? Is it time to go your separate ways, is it time to shift the dynamic of the mentorship relationship, does the mentee now need to evaluate their role in the relationship, or has it evolved to there being no distinction between mentee and mentor now?
No matter the circumstance, always check in.
My mentor has taught me a lot, but more importantly, he has been empathetic, compassionate and a genuine human being to me. I am fortunate that someone I met 14 years ago continues to be an integral part of my professional development and my life.
Come connect with likeminded professionals at our Maryland Chamber Happy Hour!! It is all about network building, find your new mentor today!
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