By Dr Ruth Gotian – Forbes
Having a mentor is the greatest gift someone can receive. It is also the most significant treasure someone can offer. As I have previously reported in Forbes, those who have mentors out earn and outperform those who try going about it on their own. What is this great superpower which mentors hold?
Above my desk, I have a “Kram’s Functions of a Mentor” sign as my constant reminder of just how deep the responsibility of a mentor lies. It is based on decades of research by Dr. Kathy Kram, the Shipley Professor in Management Emerita at Boston University Questrom School of Business. It is as accurate today as it was when she first wrote about it decades ago.
Recently I had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Kathy Kram about the origins of her work, which are the cornerstone for anyone working or studying the field of mentoring. Her research underscores two essential roles of mentorship; one of career development and the other of psychosocial support.
The professional development functions assist the mentee in learning the intricacies of organizational life and politics while preparing them for advancement opportunities. The mentor can offer career support by increasing the mentees exposure and visibility, offering them challenging work assignments, sponsoring them for opportunities, and protecting them from people and tasks that can derail their careers. Career stalling tasks include office housework, citizenship tasks and work that needs to be done but is not considered promotable. It’s the office party planning, note-taking, and helping all of our colleagues with their tasks before we get to our own.
The psychosocial functions build the mentee’s competence, confidence, and effectiveness in their professional role. The emotional supporting functions can include role modelling the proper way of dealing with challenges and successes, acceptance and confirmation of the mentee, counselling, and friendship. Empathy helps the mentee when they are dealing with defeat, failed experiments, or missed opportunities.
We all need help with both areas, the professional and psychosocial functions. We benefit significantly from the professional push to keep our careers progressing, helping us develop a plan of action and introducing us to the right people. Psychosocial support is needed to encourage us when we do not believe in ourselves. They help us through the challenging times when we think our work is meaningless, never amount to anything, or when we get one loss or rejection after another. The mentor can keep the big picture in mind, knowing that defeat is temporary, and see the potential we have yet to see in ourselves.
Like many others who work in the mentoring space, Kram emphasises that mentoring has evolved and now encourages people to have a network of mentors, or as I call them, a team of mentors. Kram recommends being proactive in initiating mentoring conversations. “Regularly assess and ask yourself who would it be helpful for me to talk to and interact with to help me move through a major career change?” said Kram.
Kram suggests that any significant change in your life, such as a new job, degree, or partner, is an indicator for launching a self-assessment and reviewing your mentoring network. Even without disruption to your life, you should check your mentoring team annually. She suggests asking yourself three questions:
- How is my current network serving me? Are there any holes?
- Is there anyone in my network with whom I want to develop stronger relationships?
- Is there anything in front of me that would benefit from greater assistance?
When looking for a mentor, Kram suggests considering the following points:
- Expertise is not sufficient to be a good mentor.
- Test the mentor’s availability.
- See if they are interested in being helpful.
- Do they want to devote time, and do they have the bandwidth?
- Test the waters before jumping in.
Most people realize that a mentor can help them succeed.