Team Productivity

6 Ways Having a Mentor Will Improve Your Career

Bella Woo
August 6, 2014
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Whether it’s a formal or informal relationship, having a mentor or serving as a mentor can make all the difference in personal growth and career satisfaction. Sustaining a mentor relationship requires a lot of time, effort and passion. While it might take a couple of tries to find the right match, the value outweighs the energy spent on cultivating the relationship. Here’s why:

1. Formal training and education is expensive

Unless your organization’s education budget is unlimited, it’s likely that the wishlist for professional development opportunities exceeds available resources. Professional development can come in many forms: conferences, brown bag lunches, guest speakers, assistance or reimbursement for higher education or certifications, etc. But probably the cheapest and most personally rewarding professional development opportunity any business or organization can provide is a mentorship program.

If your workplace does not have a formal program, don’t be shy to initiate one or to ask someone if they’d like to serve as your mentor informally. Mentorships come in many forms. Don’t overlook an opportunity to build new or redefine professional relationships.

2. Expertise is difficult to get

Industry niches exist because often times the expertise is developed through lived experiences. Very rarely will an educational or a training program be capable of preparing an individual for every scenario possible. Or perhaps your role or expertise requires skills that can’t quite be taught in a formal setting. Your specialization may be a result of the growth of your career; each year you find yourself more knowledgeable about a small set of topics.

In this case, having a mentor who has similar experience or background may be more accessible and rewarding than searching for relevant keynotes or lectures at your next conference.

3. Ensure that the open door policy really works

Like I said earlier, mentor relationships come in many forms. It may be helpful to have a mentor who isn't representative of your career trajectory or in the exact same field. I once participated in a mandated mentorship program. Everyone upon hire was assigned a mentor, even the senior leadership. Your mentor wasn't necessarily someone who was on your project or functional team, but you reported to this person for annual reviews, if you needed advice, or if you had concerns about office life.

This set up was successful because many felt that having a mentor one step removed from their day-to-day performance made it easier to discuss career goals without having to worry about whether the mentor was harboring unspoken comments. The mentor could provide career advice and arbitrate personal disputes between colleagues more objectively.

4. Have fresh eyes and ears

Having a mentor can help you read situations from different perspectives. Your mentor can help suggest solutions based on experience or help you brainstorm new ideas. Spending the time to build a strong relationship with someone else can provide you with frequent and candid feedback. This means you are able to incorporate improvements to your performance before your annual review or make procedural and managerial changes to get your project back on track.

5. Increase team unity

Successful mentor relationships hinge on the ability for one party to acknowledge the need for help. When this need is reciprocated and knowledge is shared, a sense of trust is built between the two individuals. Better team synergy can be achieved when team trust increases. With greater team synergy, team members communicate more effectively and projects run smoother. When individual team members can acknowledge that they rely on others, the dynamic shifts from “I work on team XYZ” to “I am a member of team XYZ.”

6. Benefit both parties

We often focus only on the receiving end of a mentor relationship, but as with any relationship, it takes work. Through a mentor relationship, the mentor strengthens his or her skill set by expanding and mastering their knowledge when they teach the material or coach someone else along the process.

When a mentor puts in effort into making the relationship a good experience for the mentee, the mentor will find themselves rewarded with the privilege of witnessing their growth.

As you can see, there are many different types of mentor relationships, but every mentor has one common goal: to make you the best project manager that you can be. If you don’t’ already have a mentor, begin compiling a short list of potential mentors and start reaching out now. Begin talking to your talent or leadership development personnel on how to start an opt-in program.

Have you had or currently have a mentor? What are some benefits you’ve experienced through a mentorship?

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