The Mentor-Mentee Relationship
A Two-Way Street
Samara Donald, a mentor for Collective Changes, has mentored more than 40 people over the course of her career ranging from school peers to corporate managers. She believes teaching is in her DNA. Both her parents were teachers. Her dad taught English as second language. Her mom taught elementary school English and a minister.
As a teenager, Donald began mentoring within the children’s performing group where she was a member since the age of seven. She learned about leadership and training from the older performers and directors during practices, rehearsals and performances. This experience helped her and other older students mentor younger performers.
In a college communications course, Donald learned how to ask for advice. Meanwhile, a journalism course assignment offered the chance to interview 10 professionals about their jobs and career paths. “A vice president at an advertising agency influenced me the most,” Donald said. “She told me agency life is ‘not as glamorous as you might think’ and advised me to consider working on the client side.”
During Donald’s senior year in college, an advisor helped her find the right career path. He stressed the value of asking exploratory questions. His career advice opened the door to Microsoft where she started working as a market research analyst.
Seizing Opportunities and Taking Chances
At Microsoft, her first manager taught her how to engage within the professional environment. Also, she learned that the “insights” within data are more interesting than the data itself. Most of all, she learned the importance of being confident.
“Because my manager had confidence in me, I had confidence in myself,” Donald said. “She provided the opportunities. I took the chance.”
Because she did, Microsoft eventually promoted her to Director of Field Marketing Capability and Capacity. In this role, another manager showed her how to look and act like an executive. “She pushed me. She introduced me to key executives, and gave me chances to work with senior executives. Again, my manager gave me the opportunities. I took the chance.”
Creating Your Own Journey
All that success makes her the perfect mentor. She offers this advice to her protégés:
• Be a role model. Steer people in the right direction and give feedback.
• Let people make mistakes and give them room to grow.
• Don’t grab every opportunity for yourself. Instead, pass them along to others.
• Create your own journey by collaborating with others.
• Voice your opinion, even if it’s not popular.
• Take risks. Stretch yourself and know you will fail but you’re not going to die.
• Do a self-assessment and know what makes you unique.
• Show confidence and know that you belong at the table, even if you’re the only woman among nine men. The best performing companies have a diverse workforce.
Asking Tough Questions
The mentee should drive the discussion and define the problem as well as the specific needs you’re solving together. Allow the mentee to do some soul searching to discover their own journey. Meanwhile, the mentor needs to be patient and listen. Ask questions such as:
• What problem do you want to solve?
• Who do you want to be?
• What do you want out of life?
• What is your goal? What interests you?
• Where do you want to be in your life and your career in 5-10 years?
• What job will fit with that lifestyle? (not the other way around)
• Who do you want to meet?
• What deliverables will demonstrate success?
• How to initiate a hard conversation with the boss or colleagues?
The mentee – mentor is built on respect, trust and interdependence. They should share common interests, hobbies and passions such as yoga, sports, cooking, books and such. And, the personalities should click.
The mentor should be transparent and open to sharing experiences. Avoid giving too much advice, being opinionated or becoming trapped in your own ego. As the mentor, understand that you don’t know everything but can help the mentee create a roadmap to achieve their next goal.
Finally, the mentee must demonstrate loyalty and earn trust to gain access to the mentor’s network, the ultimate secret sauce.
Evolving into friendship
Of all Donald’s protégés, one subordinate stands out.
“I encouraged my team member to be brave and bold when making career choices but also disciplined and mindful of her steps,” Donald said. Ten years later, evolution took over.
“Although she continues seeking my mentorship, we now barter skills and she has shown me how to think more creatively.” Today, my protégé owns and operates a thriving domestic marketing/communications consultancy that she has nurtured for over five years.
“I admire her,” Donald said.
And that’s the best compliment a protégé can hear from a mentor.