The project profession is not for the faint of heart. Our roles often involve significant individual responsibility. The buck stops with us when it comes to decision-making, and we spend all day supporting teams, stakeholders and sponsors, often with zero support for us as individuals.
Now, more than ever, it is imperative that people can access the support and guidance that they need as professionals. In a world of constant change where job security doesn’t exist, we can no longer rely on working hard to guarantee us a comfortable 40-year career and a nice pension. Working harder does not equal success, and often leads to burnout.
Instead, we need to work smarter and find accelerators to help us along the way
One such accelerator is mentorship. Mentoring provides us with professional connections and opens up many avenues for ongoing friendships. A mentor will not only provide invaluable support and guidance, but also you will benefit from someone else having your back and endorsing you. In the current job market, you are far more likely to find your next job via your network, and having a mentor allows you to leverage that person’s network.
Many assume that it is only the mentee that benefits. In fact, mentors get the joy of seeing someone else progress as a result of their support, and it is a great opportunity to develop leadership and communication skills, gain confidence while you learn about your own leadership capability and expand your network.
One way of establishing a mentoring relationship is to ask someone who inspires you to be your mentor. If you see someone who you think might need mentoring, ask them if it’s something they would enjoy.
Whatever route you take, you may encounter challenges, such as:
- Plucking up the courage to ask
This is a daunting task, and even the most confident among us shudder at the thought of such a request going badly. There are a few considerations and approaches you might like to consider. First, it’s important that either you know that the person is open to mentoring or that you already have some form of relationship before approaching them. Also, allow the other person time and space to consider your request before expecting a response.
You could consider putting a post on LinkedIn or reaching out to your network to ask if they know of anyone who is taking on mentors, and there are also platforms providing services to connect you with mentors.
- Thinking you have to be at the top of your career to be a mentor
This couldn’t be further from the truth. In our experience, the mentoring relationships where the mentor is just one or two steps ahead of another person are the most successful. That’s because the mentor is able to relate more closely and empathise with the position their mentee is in, and is better able to recall the specific actions that helped them with their own development.
- Thinking you have to know exactly where you’re headed in your career to have a mentor
While it is always a benefit to have an idea of where you want to go professionally in order to connect with someone in a similar field or area, it is not always necessary. For example, although you might not know exactly where you want to go with your career, you may be aware that you often struggle with confidence or that you want to develop your people management skills. In which case, the focus of the mentoring sessions will be around these topics, rather than the direction of your career.
- Thinking that you need to know all of the answers to be a mentor
As a mentor, the power lies far more in the questions you ask than the answers you give. While a mentor will have a breadth of personal experience and advice to give, each person and situation is unique. There is no single ‘correct’ way, and what worked for one person won’t necessarily work for another. Instead, the role of a good mentor is to help their mentee apply their individual skills to their personal challenges. As such, they need not have answers, but simply be willing to listen, understand and ask great questions.
Projects are all about people
Mentoring can help you achieve any range of career goals you may have. Whether that be to get into project management, progress into a programme role or even manoeuvre sideways. A supportive mentor can make all the difference to an individual in our challenging environment. We all have goals and aspirations, and no matter the level the mentee has reached, we often find ourselves needing some external words of wisdom to help us navigate our way through.
Projects are all about people and relationships and being a mentor/mentee in this environment is just one way to further bolster this aspect.
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