But just what are the benefits to be had from mentorship? Yvonne explains that mentees should be clear on what they want to achieve from the mentoring process, particularly when they will be having limited interactions with their mentor. “You may, for instance, only see your mentor once a month for a year, so you need to be very clear on what you expect to gain from those interactions over that period,” she points out.
You may choose to be mentored by a certain person who has particular strengths that you want to tap into, so that’s going to be your learning for the specified period. “At the end of the period, you may even find that your mentor has a lot more to offer, and you might decide to ‘apply’ to stay with the person for another year. Alternatively, you may decide to move on to a different mentor to gain a different skill or knowledge share,” Yvonne continues.
Mentors also need to understand what they are expected to deliver, because, if they don’t, then they won’t be able to feel any sense of satisfaction at having delivered. “Like anything else in life, if mentors are very clear on what it is they are expected to deliver or achieve, and they are supported by being given the tools to deliver, then they and their mentees are set for success,” she elaborates.
Will You Be My Mentor?
The question Yvonne is often asked is how to go about approaching a potential mentor. “In the informal scenario, you may find someone who crosses your path regularly, either at your company or within another organisation, and you find that you really admire that person and how they do things. It won’t hurt to approach them and to ask them if they have the time and the interest in scheduling more regular knowledge-sharing sessions with you. You could also check with your company, if you work for one, whether it has a mentoring programme that you could register for. Finally, there are stand-alone organisations that offer mentorship programmes to young businesspeople,” she advises.
Of course, in this connected age, we are likely to encounter businesspeople whom we admire on professional or social networking sites, including the likes of LinkedIn or Facebook. Or, we might decide that we would like to be mentored by a high-profile businesswoman and contemplate approaching her via such a social networking application or by e-mail. Yvonne counsels against approaching possible mentors online. “It becomes really difficult, because the likelihood is that this person simply won’t have the time to respond to all the requests for mentorship, might not know how to say ‘No’ to these requests, and so simply might not respond to you at all. This might result in you viewing that person, somewhat unjustly, in a different light.
“Your best option when approaching a possible mentor is to get in touch with them or their organisation personally to arrange a meeting, or work at developing a relationship with them over time. We are all nervous about opening up our personal network, and high-profile businesswomen are no different. If you really want to be mentored by the giants of this world, you have to be willing to invest in the relationship, interact with them respectfully, and then be prepared for the possibility that they may decline your request. If they do agree to mentor you, you must respect yourself and their time by being prepared for these sessions and taking full advantage of them,” she says.
For all these reasons, Yvonne is particularly passionate about her participation in the CEO Communications’ Women in Motion (WIM) mentoring and networking workshops. “The thinking behind WIM is to create a platform where young women can interact and learn from their peer group as much as theywould their elders. The workshops are structured in such a way as to bring small groups of these young women face to face with women who have a wealth of business experience and have gone through a lot to achieve in their spheres of business. Not only can they interact with these mentors in a safe way, but how they make the most of their relationships with these mentors and their peers after the workshops are concluded is entirely up to them. We have been very pleasantly surprised to see the extent of the networking that has taken place as a result of past workshops. Young women who are dedicated to improving their own lot will take full advantage of any opportunity that comes their way,” she concludes.
Mentoring means many things to different people, and can follow a formal programme within a company or organisation, or it can be as simple as meeting with someone you admire to share a few cups of coffee and get some advice. “In fact, sometimes it can be such an unconscious process that we are not even aware that we are being mentored or are mentoring someone else,” says Yvonne.
“The key thing is that young people understand that they can short-cut and overcome any problems, be they personal, career or business-related, by being able to talk to others who have walked the path before them. Whether they choose to participate in a structured programme or more informal sessions, they can only benefit from these sessions,” she adds.
WIMVATION | Mentor Me