Mentoring and Knowledge Sharing

By Roberta Attanasio, Forever Leaders Editor

Finding the right mentor can jump start your career or take it to the next level, but sometimes the search for a mentor seems endless.  Indeed, I’m asked the same question over and over again: “How do I find a mentor?”  With all the advice available out there, there is still need to ask.  Why?  It’s because, very frequently, the first attempts to find a mentor are unsuccessful.  Despite the abundance of free advice, somehow one of the most important messages does not hit home.  To find a mentor on your own, it’s helpful to look among people to whom you have already demonstrated your potential for success—people who understand your values and believe in you.  Otherwise, why would they mentor you?

This takes me to the next point—even if would-be mentors recognize your potential for success, they may not have resources (mostly time resources) to dedicate to you.  Therefore, they may be hesitant about committing to a new mentoring relationship.  So what can you do to make mentoring more attractive to someone with limited time availability?  Show you understand that time is valuable, that a successful mentoring relationship is purposeful and meaningful, and show you’re open-minded about new, modern approaches to mentoring.  Your potential mentor will know that the relationship will be flexible and productive, and that time will be used wisely.  But, what are some of the new approaches to mentoring?  One example is the “two-way street” model.  Ask yourself: What can I offer my mentor?  Be ready to give or, in other words, be ready to add value, so to make the relationship even more appealing and productive.

So, let’s review the features of a modern and successful professional mentoring relationships.  Both mentor and mentee know what they want to accomplish, expectations are clearly defined, and the mentor has the specific expertise to help achieve the mentee’s goals.  Mentoring works at its best when is deliberate and tailored for specific individuals.  A mentor helps a mentee to deal with challenges and to develop a career and leadership strategy.  A mentor may also provide a non-judgmental ear when the mentee needs to vent frustrations.  The mentee develops skills and acquires knowledge necessary for professional and personal growth, while the mentor benefits by “giving back”—expertise piled up throughout the years is freely made available to others.  However, many of the most successful mentoring relationships now follow the “two-way street” approach—along with the mentee, the mentor also acquires new knowledge and develops new skills by interacting with the mentee.  In other words, knowledge flows both ways, and skills are acquired by both parties.  So, again, when looking for a mentor, ask yourself: “How can I help my mentor grow?”

At first, you may feel uncomfortable with the concept of helping a mentor grow.  This is because, traditionally, the most common mentoring relationships are seen under the perspective of the “one-way street” model—an older, senior individual shares expertise with a younger, junior one.  However, the traditional model is being gradually replaced by the “two-way street” approach.  Many mentors now learn from their mentees thanks to bi-directional knowledge sharing.  I often hear of mentors becoming familiar with specific aspects of social media or acquiring new technology-based skills from their mentees.  Don’t shy away from what you know.  Knowledge of up-and-coming tech trends is helpful to everyone.  This type of mentoring relationship also helps to clarify generational interpretations of different issues, thus improving communication in the larger community.  There are many different ways to add value to the mentoring relationship.  Be creative—you have more to give that you think.

So, once you have identified a potential mentor among individuals that believe in you, show that you have a plan in place—and find out how you can help.  Show that you understand modern mentoring.  This could just be the missing link between you and a successful quest for a mentor.  Once your willingness to give is recognized, the mentoring relationship will most likely develop on its own, moving on a two-way street.  And, remember….. even when your first mentoring relationship becomes well-established, keep looking.  One mentor is not enough, you need multiple mentors!

Copyright © 2016-2018 Forever Leaders.

22 comments

  1. Finding a mentor is not just hard but can be impossible at times. When a person has a mentor they may not even notice that the have a mentor. The mentee may not even notice that they have a mentor. If a clear establishment of a mentor/mentee relationship is not made then it may not follow the two- way model that is currently being used. In a mentee and mentor relationship it important to establish the relationship and determine what everyone will be getting from the relationship. This article addresses a factor that is not commonly talked about which is what a mentor gets from mentoring. Mentees are always thinking about how to get a mentor and what they can do for the mentee. It is not commonly thought about what the mentor will get. I believe that everyone has areas they can improve in and everyone one has something to offer. It is important to bring something to the table because mentors invest a lot of their personal time into the mentee. Mentorships should be a two-way relationship because it will give both the mentee and mentor ways to improve.

  2. I can relate directly with this blog post. I, too, have been wondering how one goes about finding a proper mentor to mold and guide a person in a younger generation in a professional sense. Approaching an individual about becoming a potential mentor just seems awkward enough to me, simply because I feel as though the role of mentor and mentee is something that should be a natural progression in a relationship. To me, it just seems like its something that you fall into with that older individual. Also, I do understand the importance of having a two-way giving streak between mentor and mentee. It’s odd to think about because as a younger person, there is just so much more you can learn from a person who not only has been on this earth longer but has been practicing in your desired field for an extended period of time. Therefore, to think that you could possibly give this renowned person any credible piece of advice or help is slightly ludicrous. But, at the same time, I completely understand that because mentee and mentor might be from two different generations – it is possible for each to give insight to the other in different ways.

    • Carmen, I wish there was more awareness of the need to actively seek a mentor. I have a group of three wonderful mentors, and I found two of them through actively seeking, and a third through the first one. I told each one of them the areas I needed help with. I made thing easy for them by telling them what I needed, they did not have to guess or take their time to figure things out. Each one of them helps me in very powerful but different ways. Best is to participate to networking events and connect to people you can keep in touch with until they realize your potential, and reality is that if they’re smart they’ll see right away you have potential. I believe one of the reasons so many millennials lack mentors is the vision of a romanticized relationship. Mr. or Mrs. Right suddenly appears or things develop naturally. Not so! You risk waiting for decades if you keep waiting for things to happen. Miracles do happen, but they’re rare. Don’t risk to be without a mentor. I code, it’s my favorite hobby, and I’m always eager to help my mentors with tasks that require exceptional coding skills. No one of my mentors is able to code. I consistently provide advice on where to seek help for writing code and sometimes I do it myself for them. I can tell you this is so much appreciated, and it is so much appreciated because I’m so happy (it really shows) to give help with all my heart. All of us millennials can help each other if we make each other understand that mentors do not happen, and mentors do really appreciate your help. There is no reason to pursue an outdated version of mentorship. Update your thinking. Spread the word. Be current on the new vision of mentorship!!!!!!!!! Be successful because you can be. My mentors help me daily to be successful, they keep me grounded Couldn’t do it without them.

    • JBC, I can understand entirely where you are coming from and I admire your go-getter attitude. Being assertive and proactive, like you seem to be, are two really good qualities to have – especially in a professional sense. However, at the same time, I was simply voicing my hesitance in FORCING a dynamic between a pair of individuals that possibly was not meant to be. It was not intended to romanticize a relationship between mentor and mentee, but to shed light on the fact that you should not muscle a connection between an elder simply because you desire a mentor. Even Sheryl Sandberg, author of the book Lean In and COO of Facebook, herself said that she was constantly put in the awkward predicament of being asked to mentor someone that either she did not know or was not comfortable mentoring. She said: “If someone has to ask the question, the answer is probably no.” Instead, you should “excel and you will find a mentor.” This was all I was trying to get across in my other post – that sometimes it’s better to let things fall into place naturally so as to not either yourself or the other person uncomfortable. I suppose a happy medium idea is to combine both of our approaches – be assertive and proactive in social situations to meet people and make connections, but to allow the connections you DO end up making be authentic and flow naturally. Good plan?

    • Yes, I find it important for a woman to have a relationship with a mentor who can guide them in the sense that they can get an understanding of the professional world. I agree with your statement in that the relationship between a mentor and mentee should happen as a natural occurrence. I disagree with the statement about a mentee not being able to teach the mentor valuable life lessons as well because no matter how renowned or experienced you are, there is always something new that a person can learn especially with the rapid development of our society. Because if the mentor and the mentee is from the same generation they can have a different approach to an event and situation.

  3. Discovering my mentor was easier than I expected it to be, but the fear that is instilled behind finding a mentor is what discourages most people from searching for one. Then, the notion behind having something to offer so that the relationship is beneficial is another strain that is placed on individuals who aren’t sure of what they have to offer. I love the experience I had with WomenLEAD and being paired with someone to interview, who could possibly become a mentor. With that, I made sure to have a list of all I had to offer that I knew she could use by researching her and after the interview she offered to be my mentor. My suggestion would be to interview someone who is already in your desired field and sale yourself then and hopefully they’ll offer to be your mentor.

    • It’s very encouraging to hear that someone from our class has found mentors, and that it wasn’t a huge uphill battle. I admire that you made a list of all that you have to offer to a potential mentor, and looked into specific characteristics that they would be interested in. I agree with you that there is a strain placed on finding a mentor and in making sure that its a mutually beneficial relationship, but it sounds like the initiative you have had has shown how someone can be truly successful when they are prepared and committed to finding a mentor.

    • Yes, that is a great idea to write out what you could offer a potential mentor. This article and the comments responding to it (especially yours) remind me of the theme of sitting at the table in the book Lean In that we read this year for Women Lead. This theme in the book emphasized the concept of being confident in what you bring to the table (what you have to offer) and letting that be what makes people want to mentor you. I also totally believe in writing things out in general (goals, ideas, etc.), so this is a great way to build that confidence that you do have something to offer and to make yourself start believing it.

  4. I have been very fortunate in this area. I have multiple mentors, including two from other universities. However, this has not happened solely because of luck. I worked extremely hard to get where I am now and my mentors are the ones who noticed. In the mentor-mentee relationship, I believe the mentee must be willing to put forth majority of the effort. I do everything I can to make my mentors’ job as stress free as possible (especially right now with completing my honors thesis and applying to PhD programs). This means I make my schedule as flexible as possible, even if that means meeting with them at 8:00am, even if I have a 10+ hour day ahead of me between classes and research. I have no problem doing this because all of my mentors are people whom I deeply respect. After all, my mentors are what I aspire to be, a scientist in academia.
    I think the idea of the “two-way street” approach will become more comfortable for mentees if they recognize their mentors as future colleagues and collaborators. In fact, a few of my mentors have research collaborations with former students. For a mentor to even take you on as a mentee it means they see something in you, so as this blog post says, don’t be afraid to share your knowledge as well. However, I think it is important for the mentee to understand when this is appropriate, and to be respectful of the knowledge that the mentor holds. The mentor-mentee relationship absolutely has potential to be fruitful for both parties.

    • I agree with you 100%. The whole “treat others how you would wanted to be treated” motto can definitely apply to mentee-mentor relationships. Often times, the mentee is scared to reach out to a potential mentor due to their lack of knowledge in the field. I had that problem. I knew my career goals and I had role models, but I did not know how to go about facilitating that relationship. It took a couple of brave thoughts and some emails to start the mentee-mentor relationship. I know a lot of my peers have self doubted their ability to catch the attention of a potential mentor, but I think everyone just needs to a shot of confidence and humbleness. Rejection is okay. When one door closes another one will open.

  5. I think our generation tends to romanticize the idea of a mentor as much as finding a life partner. The idea that the mentor and mentee will magically meet, or that the first person you ask will be the right one. I think that finding the right mentors is trial and error, learning who the best match for you is, as well as who you would be a good match for. Finding the right mentor does require stepping out of your comfort zone and learning how to best market yourself. A mentee is an investment for their mentor so it takes knowing how to best resent your self so that they will feel they will get something out of the relationship.I also think that finding the right mentor takes being aware of which doors are opening and which are closing. I tend to try and make something work, like a relationship or an opportunity, when I think it would be good even when their are multiple signs telling me it’s not the right thing. Like I’ve heard from several of our speakers this year, we tend to think there are limited pieces of the pie so we have to settle with the first thing we get. I think when looking for a mentor patience can be helpful so that you find the best mutual relationship possible.

    • Hi Kirsten, I agree with your post it is very well said. But I also must add that along with finding the right mentor, many people assume that they will find everything that they need in one person. (I’m not stating that you are) Sometimes we may need different people for multiple aspects of our lives. I have a few mentors and although much of the help they offer me overlaps, there are some things that I would go to one mentor about over the other. I am a biology student so two of my mentors are involved in the sciences, but one of them isn’t. Each of my mentors connect in my life in different ways. But many times I find this to be very beneficial, because I do not have to overwhelm one person with everything and I can also get different perspectives on something from people who know me very well.

  6. I’ve never had a relationship with someone whom I would officially consider a mentor, and I’ve always felt confused about how to find one. I admitted this to Angie Allen at the poster session, and she told me that if someone offers to help me, I should believe them and take them up on it. That’s good advice for me because I’ve always been hesitant to ask others for help. I’ve been waiting for a close relationship to develop or for someone to show a willingness to help me. Maybe that’s holding me back?
    Although mentors might have more experience than us, I think we all have something to offer from our experiences in ways that are relevant to leading, such as how to work on a team, resolving conflict, and managing time/stress.

    • There is plenty of help available around to find a mentor. To start, you may want to check what Vicki Wright Hamilton does to help women in search of a mentor. She is the founder of “The Wright Answer“, which is a global online match making mentoring program for women from college through retirement. This is one of the many initiatives dedicated to match a mentee with a mentor. You should try it out, it works wonders.

  7. What ever happened to altruism? While I think it is fair to ask for a bi-directional learning experience, I think people should be willing to give and share their knowledge for the sake of growth of the youth. If a mentor can find time because they feel they are getting something out of it, they can find time if they were not getting anything out of it. To me, it sounds like a poor and selfish excuse. It is all about what is important to them. I would like to know that at least one of my mentors would still mentor me even if I didn’t always have something to share that he or she does not know about and have some new innovative idea every time we meet. It is true that many of my mentor relationships involve a sharing of ideas, but it was them who guided me to find my ideas and search for my hidden truths. What do you all think? Do you believe these relationships have to be this way?

    • Yes, of course mentors are willing to give and share their knowledge for the sake of growth of the mentee. Notice I did not say “youth”, I said mentee. Why? Mentor-mentee relationships are changing, and there are numerous examples of so-called “reverse mentorship”, where the mentor is “young” and the mentee is “senior”. The interpretation readers are giving to this post seems to be that mentees are supposed to offer something in return for mentorship. However, the post simply suggests to be ready to give, which means be ready to enter a bi-directional mentorship arrangement. And yes, this bi-directional arrangement most likely will happen on its own, and with time, after the relationship is initially established. What is important here is to be open minded about what modern mentorship is. Again, think in terms of reverse mentoring and peer-to-peer mentoring (which I’ll be writing about later on) as some of the new facets of mentorship. Times and interactions and interpretations are changing. Do not get stuck on the “senior mentors junior” paradigm. If you keep thinking of a mentee as “youth”, you will be missing many awesome growth opportunities.

    • I believe that any good mentor has a desire to help their mentee, even if they don’t get much in return. Personally, I think sharing information in and of itself has great benefits to the person sharing. Being able to share your knowledge and help another person can be very satisfying. What I think Dr. Attanasio is trying to point out is that the people who would make good mentors tend to have very busy lives. If a mentor had time to mentor only one person and there was a choice between someone who only desires their help and guidance, and someone who has offered to teach their skills to you in return, you would of course choose the person who is willing to give information to you. The mentor-mentee dynamic has changed over the years. With so much information accessible and new technology being created, the younger generations now have a similar responsibility that older mentors have had in the past: share your information with those who can benefit from it.

  8. Although finding the “right” mentor may seem like the only approach, I think it’s important to not limit who you are willing to work with. Especially within STEM, many topics are interrelated, and the most obvious mentor choice may not also be the best for your specific aspirations. By focusing on one particular person, you deny yourself the opportunity of experiencing what others may be able to offer you. Venturing outside of your immediate interests does not necessarily mean that you have to compromise your interests, and in many cases it actually allows you to diversify your understanding of the topic. Additionally, waiting for the “right” mentor may cause you to miss out on finding a mentor at all.

    • Hi Josh, I definitely agree with your statement.

      Like I state above, my mentors all have different roles in my life. Finding a mentor should be natural and a mentor can be found almost anywhere. I have a friend who met a physician while he was out for dinner with his twelfth grade prom date. They had a great conversation and he kept in contact with him. My friend didn’t know what he wanted to do as a career, but he did see this person as someone who could give him life advice if not career advice. My friend ended up getting into physical therapy school at the University of Southern California (he went to Georgia State University) but he still stays in touch with the physician. He always stated how inspiring his mentor was and how he related very well to him. Agreeing with you, we should welcome mentors regardless of where they are or what field they are in, you never know what someone can offer you or who they know.

  9. This post was very thorough and descriptive in successfully developing and maintaining a relationship with your mentor. I completely agree that (any relationship) is a two way street, and that you can’t expect to have a successful relationship with anyone without a equal balance of giving and receiving. Both mentee and mentor should be continuously learning and engaging throughout their relationship. Pulling from my personal experience, mentors are not necessarily people that you should have to actively go out and find. As this post suggested; the mentor should be someone who has seen your potential and shared common traits and values with you. One mentor I have had that has been supportive of me and helpful in a variety of ways is a close family friend of my parents who has been involved in my life since I was a child, and did not truly become a mentor to me until I began my path towards a career in the medical field. Since she has spent her entire career working as a doctor, teaching in a medical school and working as a hospital director , finding out that I was interested in going into the same field transformed a normal family friend into a mentor for me; due to this shared common interest. I believe that many others who are looking for a mentor could find one through acquaintances of their parents or family members, and develop a new relationship with this person based on common values that you may share with this person.

  10. I absolutely enjoyed reading this post because it was so relatable for me. Having a mentor in life is extremely crucial, and so it’s important for every individual to have that one person you can look up to. It can be very easy to have mentor in one’s life without them even realizing it. If you sit down and think about who’s advice you follow in difficult times, you will eventually lead to a certain person, who you indeed can call your mentor. As any other relationships in life, I truly especially believe with the fact that having a mentor relationship with someone should be two-way street. I believe this is the only way for the mentor to continuously give proper advice, knowing what is happening in someone’s life.

  11. Finding a mentor can be very challenging at times, because it is hard for someone to make a time commitment to assist someone else. It can be difficult to find someone who understands your personal values, and shares mutual goals. It is important that it is a two-way road for both the mentor and the mentee, but since the mentor is usually older in age, and experienced the mentee has a greater growing advantage.
    It is important to have a mentor because they can show you how to achieve your goals, and guide you through the steps of success. But, it is also important that you as a person know what your goals are and how to achieve your vision independently as well. A mentor can only provide you with the advice, but you have to decide which path to take, or have the motivation to reach for your greatest potential. Having a mentor can be sometimes making it difficult to be independent, because you may think that since the mentor is experienced they are always right. But, there are times where the mentor’s advice doesn’t satisfy you or, seems as if you have a better plan for yourself. It is okay to share your concerns and beliefs with the mentor in order to ask their opinion on your views verses their advice. Overall, I believe it is difficult to find a mentor, but critical to have one because a mentor keeps you motivated to pursue your goals.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *