In the age of digital transformation, it can be challenging to understand educational paths, certification paths, and career paths. For this reason, it is more important than ever for people coming into this industry to have role models and mentors. What is mentoring though? Mentoring to me is not about me holding your hand every step of the way. Mentoring is not me doing your work. Mentoring is not me giving you all the answers to your questions. Mentoring is about sharing knowledge and experience to help accelerate someone’s personal growth. There are great synergies in good mentoring, but mentoring can also be time consuming and energy draining in a very negative way when the expectations from the mentee can’t be met. Think of mentoring as symbiosis, something which both parties benefit from.
Keep in mind that you can be both a mentor and a mentee simultaneously. No person knows everything and it’s possible, to not say likely, that you can end up mentoring someone while relying upon others to build your own career path forward. I’ve mentored plenty of people, but I’ve also had the benefit of getting insights from friends and peers in the industry.
What, then, are some of the key factors for building a good mentor-mentee relationship?
Set Expectations – Failed relationships often come down to lack of communication and a mismatch in what was expected to be delivered vs what got delivered. Be very clear about what types of questions are okay, how much time you can commit, and expected delays in communicating back. Personally, I get a lot of requests, and my time is limited. So my belief is that I can do the most good by giving multiple people hints and advice on, for example, careers and certifications, rather than spending all my time with one person.
Choose a communication platform – In the times we live in, we get bombarded with e-mails, instant messages, text messages, and more. I have accounts on several platforms, such as the Cisco Learning Network, Twitter, and LinkedIn. I sometimes get requests to hand out my cell phone number or to install other apps, such as WhatsApp. That’s a big no for me. I have enough platforms already, and either you meet me there, or you look for help from someone else. Being too helpful will only lead to you burning out, which will help no one. Pick a platform and communicate there. I recommend avoiding phone calls, business e-mail, and private e-mail, unless you already trust the person. It’s better to stay on more “neutral” platforms.
Maintain integrity – As a mentor you need to be careful with how much information you relay to the mentee. For example, certifications are under NDA, so be very careful to not start breaking NDAs when someone is asking about what is on a test, the exam environment, what to study, and so on. Personally, If a person asks me for dumps or very specific exam questions, the relationship is over. As simple as that. You get one chance and if a person is looking for shortcuts, I can’t wait for this person to eventually see the light, they will have to take that journey on their own.
Teach to fish – “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime”. Your job as a mentor is not to spoon feed the mentee with all the answers. Your job is to send the person in the right direction, give them resources to read, challenge their thinking and to help them when they get stuck. Sometimes they need a little nudge to completely understand a topic but it’s not your job to explain OSPF from A to Z.
In the end, you should both enjoy and prosper from the relationship. Keep in mind though that we are humans and not everyone can click with each other. If the situation is not working out, it’s better to be honest about it so that it does not become a negative experience to mentor.
I hope everyone reading gets inspired to help someone on their journey and to pay it forward. Get out there and be a mentor. What is your best advice for being a good mentor?