Adventures in Learning: DIY Mentoring Program

In the recent mentoring survey by the social network LinkedIn, a large percent of women reported that the reason they didn’t have a mentor was because no one had asked them. This is the first in a series that will assist you in taking control of your career by creating your own personal mentoring program. Instead of waiting to be asked if you would like to be mentored, you will learn how to take the initiative in finding appropriate mentors for yourself.

It may seem weird to you that there is such a thing as a do-it-yourself mentoring program. We have been conditioned to think of mentoring in a certain way, in a traditional way, where someone, usually at a senior level, advises and guides another person at a more junior level. Before you create a mentoring program for yourself, first you have to understand what mentoring is, as well as determine what your true needs are, so that you seek appropriate mentors and tap into relevant networks.

The Story behind Mentoring

In Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey, when Odysseus, the Greek King of Ithaca left to fight in the 10-year Trojan War, he left his old friend Mentor in charge of his household and young son Telemachus. The real Mentor is not mentioned that much in the story; however, the immortal Goddess Athena, disguises herself as Mentor and encourages Telemachus to stand up to the men who were courting his mother Penelope.

Athena also encourages Telemachus to go abroad to seek word about what has happened to his father, who had now been away for almost 20 years. Additionally, Athena acts as a mentor to Odysseus as he goes through the many trials during his return journey to his palace in Ithaca after the war.

In more recent times, Freddie Laker mentored Sir Richard Branson, Roger Corman mentored Martin Scorcese and Ron Howard, Michelle Robinson mentored Barack Obama and former Xerox CEO Anne M. Mulcahy mentored Ursula Burns to take over the reins.

Definition of Mentoring

The modern usage of mentor – trusted friend, counsellor or teacher – first appeared in François Fénelon’s Les Aventures de Telemaque in 1699, Webaventures Wikipedia (2009). Dictionary.com has a similar definition for a mentor, “Wise and trusted counsellor or teacher, an influential senior sponsor or supporter.” And Wikipedia notes that “Mentors provide their expertise to less-experienced individuals to help them advance their careers, enhance their education.”

However, the concept of mentoring has been evolving over the past few years, and it’s no longer a traditional one-to-one or relationship. Mentoring is conversations, interactions, support and other networks and our relationships with others. Mentoring can occur in moments (profound conversation you have with others, or the interviews I conduct with others), over a period of time (mentoring for a specific period of time) or even over a lifetime (parents are often great mentors). Once you embrace the broader meaning of mentoring and mentors, it’s much easier for you to create a mentoring program that’s just right for you.

In addition to the above, there is also a new kind of mentoring – invisible mentoring. An invisible mentor is a “unique leader you can learn things from by observing them from a distance.” You may call these people role models, but they are also your invisible mentors. The invisible mentor concept may be unfamiliar to you, but in Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill, which was first published in 1937, the author writes about what he calls “invisible counsellors”. According to Hill, “I followed the habit of reshaping my own character by trying to imitate the nine men whose lives and life works had been most impressive to me… Ralph Waldo Emerson, Thomas Paine, Thomas Edison, Charles Darwin, Abraham Lincoln, Luther Burbank, Napoleon Bonaparte, Henry Ford and Andrew Carnegie… I studied the records of their lives with painstaking care.”

Step One in Creating your Mentoring Program

Before you get down to the nitty-gritty of creating your mentoring program, you first have to understand yourself and your needs, the why behind wanting a mentor. Here is your first action to take.

Mini Mentoring Needs Analysis

  1. What are your vision, mission and purpose in life?
  2. In the next three years, where would you like to be in your personal and professional life? Please frame your responses in the form of personal and professional goals for each of the five life areas – Economic/Financial, Social, Health/Fitness, Business/Career and Personal. Have no more than 10 goals and assign timelines to them for what you want to accomplish in the first, second and third year.
  3. Think about your professional goals, what gaps exist between where you are now, to where you would like to be in the next three years?
  4. What actions do you have to take to fill those gaps?
  5. What knowledge do you have to acquire to fill those gaps?
  6. Who are the experts that you can learn from, and what are their areas of expertise?
  7. Of the experts that you identified, which ones do you respect and are respected by others?
  8. If trusted friends could introduce you to five people who would be ideal mentors for you, would you choose? Would your ideal mentors be similar to the experts you identified above?
  9. The five ideal mentors that you choose in the above question, what qualities and traits do they possess, which accounted for you choosing them?
  10. Who are some people within your organizations, and other networks who have the same goals as you do? (These people could be potential members for mentoring groups that you create).
  11. At the end of a mentoring relationship, what would success for you look like?

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