Mentoring 101: What Every Specialist Needs to Know

Over the years, the demand for mentoring has been rapidly increasing. In a constantly changing environment, training for a specific job becomes irrelevant when you move on to a different task. On the other hand, mentoring focuses on the individual’s development – it helps improve higher-level skills such as critical thinking and provides context to solve complex problems.

It’s also not a secret that mentorship benefits both mentors and mentees. This is why many specialists choose mentorship to fulfill their expertise and career. But what is a good mentor? How to become a mentor? Tomas Misiukonis from “OVC Consulting,” responsible for developing leadership programs and learning initiatives in organizations and teams, agreed to answer our questions and share his knowledge about mentoring. 

I led two teams while working at “SEB” bank from 1996 to 2006. At that time, I started to feel it’s essential to focus not only on people’s activities and goals but also on themselves – what drives them forward, what constraints they have, and how they want to change? Such questions encouraged me to delve deeper into human psychology, especially various learning practices. Later, when I began to work at “OVC Consulting” and started a professional consulting career, I was interested in understanding some of the crucial questions – how do people learn? How are people changing? How do people decide to improve themselves, and what does it take? These questions led me to immerse myself in coaching and mentoring – I attended the Coaching and Mentoring Practice MA at Oxford Brookes University. I looked for the origins of mentoring and learned how to apply it in modern organizations. Today, I consider mentoring to be my vocation – helping people achieve their goals, as well as helping start mentoring initiatives for a variety of organizations.

I personally understand mentoring as creating wisdom in a partnership of thinking. One person – the mentor – facilitates the learning process by supplementing it with the accumulated experience, and the other person – the mentee – actively learns and seeks ways to grow. While mentoring may seem like a formal process, it’s often a friendly, organic, seemingly spontaneous learning relationship between two people who have the necessary experience and ability to pass that experience on to each other.

I think experts in their fields sooner or later realize that they can only grow by sharing their knowledge and expertise with others. This is how they come through the door of mentoring and start feeling the need to share their experience with other people. It makes a lot of sense to gather and pass on knowledge and experience to others, so good mentors understand that to achieve both professional and personal fulfillment, it’s worth it for them to find people with whom they can build a meaningful and necessarily reciprocal learning relationship. Personally, I learn from each of my mentees and clients. They bring me stories and cases that challenge my experience – I always have to think about how I can help them, in what aspects I can stimulate their reflection, and embed my experience without obscuring their learning.

Speaking about how to dare become a mentor, I think it’s worth starting as a mentee first and working with at least two or three professional coaches. It will give you an idea of what it means to share and accept other people’s experiences. This know-how will also help you understand:

  • how coaching is done;
  • what questions are being asked
  • how they’re being asked to stimulate thinking;
  • how learning interactions work;
  • how people understand each other.

Later, in the role of a mentee, you will start thinking – how can I help another person grow? Don’t expect to find the answer to this question immediately – first of all, you need to understand your strengths, how much you enjoy working with other people, and how you can contribute to their growth. You’ll see that mentees will appear if you find the answers to these questions. The rule for mentors is that you will become a teacher if there’s a student who wants to learn from you.

I will answer this question simply – you have to enjoy being with people. Not in the narrow sense, but in a relationship where you can take a pause, seek knowledge, explore. If you’re not afraid of ignorance, losing direction, and you can experience that with another person, I’d consider it a good start. Of course, empathy, the ability to feel people, understanding how to ask the right questions at the right time, and the ability to distract your needs and put your ego aside will come in handy. Mentors often think they need to have an in-depth knowledge of their area of expertise, but that’s not the most important thing. It’s crucial to convey all that knowledge elegantly, without rushing. Mentors have to let their mentees experiment and engage in activities. Mentors’ ability to play with thoughts, ask bold questions, offer unconventional, creative solutions, and, of course, constant curiosity about yourself and the people around are important as well. 

If a person knows his field well and can share its nuances with other people, we can consider him a mentor. On the other hand, not every mentor is a good mentor. Mere knowledge transferred without reflection and supportive relationship building will not be the real mentoring I’m thinking of. To check it out, I advise you to go deeper into your professional field and look for opportunities where, how, and with whom you can share your knowledge. If you like it and get good feedback – congratulations, you are on the right track.

I would definitely suggest completing mentoring courses that will allow you to teach other people – ask them questions that stimulate thinking, share experiences without imposing them. It’s also beneficial to be in supervision groups with more experienced mentors to understand the challenges they face. You can also find a young, less experienced person interested in your field, who may find it meaningful to hear your story and make friends with you as someone who can give you a good start. Like I said, look around, and if you see a student, maybe that person will choose to be a mentor at some point in your career. Don’t be sad if you can’t find mentees in your circle or your previous mentoring relationship breaks down. Many people don’t know who you are, so let them know about you – I suggest joining organizations that unite young professionals and offer them your experience. If you find yourself experienced in the tech field, “Women Go Tech,” for example, is a great place to help women start and accelerate their careers in IT and engineering.