Productivity Series: What to look for in a Mentor?
Once someone asked me, ‘How candid are you with your mentors?’ My answer was that if I cannot talk my heart out, that relationship is not worth both our times.
Now, people question that what does it mean to speak your heart out and how easy is it always to talk your heart out? Also, diplomatically speaking, how much should one talk their hearts out?
I am writing this article, as I just signed up with a new mentor. The reason, I signed up with them is because as I was talking my heart out to them, in the context of another conversation, I felt technically offloaded.
I felt that they were listening and hearing me out. They understood where I was coming from and I felt that I needed this person’s support in my career, not just from a therapeutic standpoint but also from a technical standpoint.
The question of what it means to speak your heart out is different for different people. But we all have something that is burning inside of us at different times. At times, that can be directly related to our technical work and at other times it may be related to our soft-skills or interactions. At other times, it may be totally unrelated to direct work, e.g. a personal situation that is hindering our productivity.
One does not always feel comfortable talking about everything with everyone. But a mentor is someone that you can genuinely trust and open up to.
They are someone for whom your interest is real, but at the same time they are not vested in your growth in a way that a manager is. They should be able to objectively withdraw themselves from the business side of things and offer you advice that works both for you and your skillsets.
Having a mentor is not the same as consulting a Tech-Guru. One should certainly have an array of Tech-Gurus that one can consult, but they do not have to be one’s mentors.
Mentors are people who are both technical but who have a shoulder to offer. If you are in a vulnerable, scared or an ambiguous situation, you should be able to go and cry in front of your mentor and be able to trust that they will not just listen but offer you real substantial help, pertaining to your industry.
Also, it is totally ok to have multiple mentors for multiple areas.
One other advice I always give to people who are looking for mentors or signing up to be a mentee, is that your mentors are generally not your sponsors and that is OK.
By a sponsor, I mean a person, who will hire you in their team. Personally, I do not think one should go seeking for a mentor, with the hope that they will hire you eventually. And in some cases, personally I would not want to work with my mentors directly either.
The main reason is that the mentor must be an external entity. Once they are your managers or team-members, that flow of candidness cannot always remain transparent.
So, if your mentor is reluctant to hire you, do not take that personally. And if your relationship leads you to work together, then that is great too.
Mentors matter, but finding a sincere and a committed mentor at times is hard.
I have found my mentors, generally either from a reference through a manager or a reference from someone in the team, where someone has said that the Person X would be a sincere mentor. Sometimes, my ex-managers have also been my mentors.
Personally, I believe that knowing someone at some level and then approaching them to mentor you, is generally the best way to sign up for mentorship.