by Allison Pollard
The concept of having a Mentor to guide you is more familiar than the ancient story that gave us the name. Over time, we’ve added more expectations and requirements to what makes an effective mentor. What might we gain as mentors from looking back to the original tale? Revisiting Greek mythology shows us the importance of acting in our mentee’s best interest.
Your Journey is Not a Path for Your Mentee to Follow
Being a mentor is often predicated on having relevant experience to your mentee’s goals. They want to get promoted into a job role that you’ve successfully held. You’ve overcome a challenge in the past that they’re facing now. Those skills that you’ve mastered are the ones that they want to develop.
While this helps the mentor and mentee relate to one another, it can also be a cause of poor mentorship.
In The Odyssey, the character of Mentor was a close friend of Telemachus’s father. He had been tasked with helping Telemachus mature into manhood. Instead, he allowed things to devolve into shambles.
Having “been there, done that” does not mean that we can effectively guide others. If we’re honest with ourselves, what we did six months ago, a year ago, or even further in the past might not have real bearing on what someone else is facing today. Mentors trick themselves into believing that the mentee came to them for their experience, and therefore the mentee should follow their footsteps.
The most effective mentorship focuses on the mentee developing confidence in their own skills and finding an approach that works for them to solve problems.
Inspiring Confidence to Undertake the Journey
When Telemachus is first introduced, he is in despair. His house is overrun by suitors who are pursuing his mother, and he worries that his father will not return. The goddess Athena (as Mentor) appears to encourage Telemachus to undertake a coming-of-age journey without sharing that his father is still alive. He is transformed by her intervention.
Women in Agile’s mentees have worthy goals but are unsure of what to do next. They want someone to help them move forward, but introducing them to a mentor does not automatically improve their life. Mentees have to put in work between conversations with their mentors and need enough direction to do so. An effective mentor inspires them to learn-as-they-go.
Over the last two years, our mentors have shared that addressing mentees’ confidence issues is harder than addressing the agile stuff. A lack of confidence may affect a mentee’s engagement with their mentor, which can cause the mentor to lose confidence in their own effectiveness. They might stop reaching out and asking for advice.
A different kind of intervention may be needed. How mentors show up and approach conversations with their mentee can make or break the relationship.
It’s normal to struggle at times on how to be helpful in someone else’s journey—what worked with one mentee might not work with another. Women in Agile invites mentors to expand their networks and come together as a mastermind group. Mentors are energized by monthly Power Hour events where they can bring up challenges, share ideas, and learn from one another. Breakthrough interventions result.
Great mentors stretch their skills and perspective in helping women gain confidence as they grow in the agile space. The improvements in confidence and agility makes mentoring relationships rewarding for both mentors and mentees.
Let Your Differences be a Guide
Expanding your range as a mentor means being able to help more people in their journeys. Diversity and inclusion practices are essential to this.
The more you see your “younger self” in your mentee, the more likely you are to weigh in with the “right way” they should do things. You may unintentionally limit their options because you want them to follow in your footsteps. Or expect them to figure something out on their own because you would know what to do. Their circumstances might get messier as they struggle to meet your high expectations, and they look to you for the answers.
Don’t be that kind of mentor.
Recognize and appreciate the differences between your strengths, your work contexts, and your backgrounds. Doing so reinforces that the mentee’s journey is different than yours as a mentor, and it makes their achievements stand out. Celebrate them!
About Allison Pollard
Allison Pollard is a coach, consultant, and trainer who focuses on creating alignment and connection for people to solve business problems together. She engages with people and teams in a down-to-earth way to build trust and listen for signals to help them learn more and improve. Allison currently volunteers as program director for Women in Agile’s mentorship program. She is co-owner of Helping Improve LLC.