Mentorship: It's all the rage.

Aug 09, 2016


Kari Kellen

Kari Kellen is a non-profit executive director from Sioux City, Iowa who is passionate about STEM education and women's leadership. A 2013 Young Woman of Excellence and 2011 Sioux City Growth Organization 'Ripple' YP Award winner, Kari has established herself as leader in her field and her community.

Mentorship.  It’s all the rage.  Seems like everyone has a mentor, wants a mentor, or is a mentor.  Have a problem professionally?  Just find a mentor!  In true form, as a card-carrying Young Professional, I too have had a number of mentors over the years.  Some experiences have been great.  Others? Well…

Mentorship is a unique relationship.  It takes a certain amount of trust and transparency and there are a few things I’ve learned about the process:

1.)    If someone asks you if they can be your mentor, you probably don’t want them. 

True mentoring happens organically.  If the words “do you have a mentor and can I do it” are part of the conversation, there is something in this relationship that isn’t quite right.  Mentoring can be a power trip for some, a recruiting tool, or a resume check list item.  Steer clear and let the right type of mentor find their way into your life.  I read this in an article a few years ago and I didn’t heed the advice.  It’s good advice.  Seriously. 

2.)   You can never have too many (quality) mentors.

Every individual that acts as a mentor in your life is going to bring a different skill set and perspective.  But, frankly, there are people out there who do not give good advice or are jaded by a specific perspective.  I’ve had wonderful mentors who are men in the business realm, but let’s face it, they don’t truly understand what it’s like to be a young female non-profit director.  I’ve also had female mentors that come from a variety of professional environments and approach things too conservatively.  Choose your mentors carefully and then try to emulate the individuals that add to the strength of your own personal skill set. The more diverse quality individuals on your team the better.

3.)    Mentor is really just another word for friend.

A qualified friend.  A friend who knows what they are talking about and has been through what you’re going through. 

Keep in mind that every mentoring relationships is just that.  A relationship. In order for a relationship to work you have to put effort and energy into it. You need to be respectful and patient.  You need to be authentic.  And most importantly, both sides need to put in equal effort.  It’s a give and a take, never one-sided.

I’ve crossed over to the point now where I am a mentor to a couple of individuals.  Strange feeling to be on the other side of things!  (I guess I may have to give up my young professional card soon.)  But I’ve learned a little bit about what to do and what not to do. 

1.)   Make time

Schedule a regular opportunity to get together.  Make sure, as the mentor, that you make time when your protégé needs it, not just when it’s convenient for your schedule.  Then be present.  Be realistic about how much time you have and how often you can meet so that each of you have the same expectation.

2.)   Focus on where your strengths and your protégé’s weaknesses meet. 

The weakness is networking or time management and neither is a strength of yours?  You’re not the right mentor for them.  Just because you work in the same field does not mean that you’re able to build up any individual in that same career path!  Make sure you meet the need or you are wasting everyone’s energy.

3.)   Set your ego to the side. 

This is not about you.  A true mentor is focused on building others up and helping them be successful.  Understand that success might look different for them than it does for you and be supportive of that.  Be authentic, admit your shortcomings and failures, and make sure that your experience doesn’t diminish the enthusiasm of someone with less experience.