21 Nov Mentors and Mentees
Original Spanish version published in El Comercio newspaper (Peru) in November 21, 2016
I have eleven mentors, but I think none of them knows that they are. They are men and women who, in the course of my career, have supported me, believed in me, and, on more than one occasion, given me a good talking-to. When faced with doubts or problems, I have always come to them for advice, a different point of view, or to reinforce any idea or initiative.
They are people to whom I am and I will always be loyal. They have shaped my behavior and attitudes, and without their being there, I would certainly have made many mistakes and had many setbacks.
Some have been my bosses, or the bosses of my bosses. Others have been clients and friends. One was an executive that I met when helping him relocate. Another I had the privilege of being his coach: he gave me life lessons while I helped him to become a better leader. Others are friends or coworkers whom I respect and to whom I will always be grateful for their support and sincerity.
I learned from Herminia Ibarra —a professor at Harvard whom I had the good fortune to meet— that maintaining these relationships IS my responsibility. As a result, I have tried not to miss any opportunities to learn from them and, above all, to understand their perspectives when faced with problems, challenges, or the simple realities of daily life.
How did I get to “appoint” my mentors? I think the common denominator among all of them is that they showed interest in my development and growth, or gave me the thumbs up at one point or another. One has criticized me harshly, and continues to do so from time to time. While it may be a bitter pill to swallow sometimes, his advice is always transparent and disinterested.
I have returned the favor, I believe, by supporting young people to whom I have given guidance or advice. I have followed the career of several of them closely and their triumphs are for me a reason for quiet pride. I do not think that any of them has assumed their position as my mentee, but every so often they give me a call and they fill me in on their progress or on their occasional defeats.
I think this system is very positive, which is why I worry when I hear anyone say he or she does not need a mentor. I am also concerned about those forced mentoring programs that some companies impose. I think the mentor-mentee relationship must be forged naturally; amid mutual understanding, mutual respect and common values. As Professor Ibarra says, it is up to the mentee to find and look after the relationship with his or her mentors, giving it the enormous importance it has in developing a competitive career. She proposes ten tasks for good mentees:
- Be loyal and reliable.
- Make your mentors look good.
- Always do more than what they ask of you.
- Makes it easy to be honest with you.
- Recognize the risks that mentors take for you.
- Have a clear learning agenda.
- Give as much as you receive – follow the “law of reciprocity”.
- Use the time and resources of your mentors selectively.
- Be responsible for how you manage the relationships with your mentors.
- Add value to your mentors because they have their own network of contacts.
How many mentors do you have?