What’s my role as a mentor?
Before going to Oman to deliver training to Ministry of Transport in December 2021 , I was enjoying a fine spring morning walking around my neighbourhood in Stockholm and preparing for an upcoming Zoom with one of my Institute of Hospitality mentees, when I stumbled upon this contraption on the side of a small canal, which runs through a park behind my apartment:
What’s that sloping metal sheet for?
Initially, I wasn’t sure what the purpose of the sloping metal sheet was that was attached to the side of the canal. Just as I was looking at the ramp and scratching my head, a duck mother and her recently born ducklings drifted past and paddled to the ramp. Mother duck hopped out of the canal with a swift jump, but the little ducklings used the metal ramp to reach the shore.
I remember thinking, that it says a lot about my new neighbourhood that local authorities go to the trouble of installing duck ramps, so little ducklings (or older ducks, which feel less energetic), can enter and leave the water effortlessly, but I also realized that the image fairly aptly symbolizes my role as a mentor
Adapting to mentee´s needs
I feel strongly that, just as every mentee’s circumstances are different, a mentor’s approach also needs to adapt and that “one size fits all” isn’t a good approach. For a mentor – mentee relationship to be successful and produce results, both parties need to, at least broadly, align, which also means that, depending on a mentee’s journey, he or she should work with more than one mentor. It’s important for a mentor to understand the stage a mentee is currently at to be able to provide the right guidance.
Danger- Mashed potatoes , no?
Equally, a mentor doesn’t just need to understand the mentee’s industry and circumstances, but also the finer details of why the mentee is looking for guidance. “Mentee pleasing” sounds like a nice thing, but isn’t really helpful in the long run. A mentor’s a short-time guide, not a permanent advisor, and he or she cannot mentor, say, an entrepreneur from the pre-start-up phases to successfully running every aspect of a multi-million-dollar business.
You might be a start-up specialist and a sales expert, but have no idea of the intricacies of human resources or how to set up an ERP system. It’s best to be upfront with mentees and explain where you can and cannot add value. Beware of people who try to add value everywhere or you’ll end up with an ERP system that mashes potatoes (I don’t know too much about ERP systems, but I’m pretty sure that they’re not supposed to mash potatoes).
Swimming without arm floats
Personally, I’ve got things figured out – and that’s also where the duck ramp from earlier on comes into play again: I help mentees get into the water smoothly and safely and learn how to swim. Once they know how to use the ramp and can swim comfortably without arm floats, I might wave them a fond farewell and introduce them to a mentor who’s better placed to help them with the journey ahead. Unless, of course, you’re talking marketing planning, communications, digital, or one of my other specialties, in which case I might just jump into the water myself and paddle alongside my mentee for a bit longer.
The ‘Number One’ factor in growing up to be a Swan
Mentors, essentially, are duck mothers or maybe Swan mothers. We’ll make sure our mentees paddle into the right direction, but we’ll also know that the time will come when our mutual journey ends and when a mentee might need different, fresh, specialist guidance.
If you’re a mentor, look around you, and you’ll soon find your duck ramp – even if your local authorities aren’t as duck friendly as mine. If you’re a mentee looking for a mentor, don’t agree to a ramp when what you really need are water skis or a 500 horsepower outboard motor, but also don’t buy a fancy yacht when you haven’t yet learned how to row a dinghy boat.