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Luwanda Jenkins: 10 suggestions for a mentoring makeover

The act of career-focused mentoring has been around for a while. It is a widely accepted practice for developing talent and providing sound career advice.

Many seasoned professionals attribute their success, in part, to their relationships with mentors. While we know mentoring has many benefits, the relationship aspect of mentoring can suffer if it lacks interest and variety.

Breathing new life into your mentoring relationship is not as hard as you might think. In fact, finding creative ways to rework traditional mentoring into an already hectic lifestyle is more of a necessity for busy professional women. Since the lines between our professional and personal lives have become more blurred and blended, this opens a whole new array of options available for fitting mentoring into our lives. If both parties are willing, and perhaps a bit adventurous, there are endless possibilities for adding a new twist to mentoring which includes a mix of weekdays, a few evenings and weekends. Here are some ideas for your mentoring makeover.

The core work

Providing a sounding board and advice that is intended to help a younger protégée better navigate ones career is the foundation of mentoring. Effective mentors know that offering the right questions at the right time is more important than having the right answers. Here is a list of open-ended questions intended to engage mentees in discussions that will lead to an analysis of issues, challenges or situations that require purposeful exploration:

-What has developed since our last conversation?

-How would you like to approach today’s conversation?

-What about this particular situation presents a challenge for you?

-What can you control about this situation? What aspects are beyond your control?

-Who are your allies/supporters and how might you leverage their support?

-What is at stake for you in this situation? What are the risks and rewards?

-What was most helpful about our conversation today?

Organizations such as Network 2000 sponsor a mentoring program that pairs members who volunteer to serve as mentors with younger professional women for a one-year cycle. Claudia Zacharias is a mentor with this year’s program and suggests role playing and situational analysis as effective ways to engage mentees.

“When your mentee tells you about an upcoming event or situation, role-play it with her and be sure to provide feedback,” Claudia said. “When the mentor is faced with certain leadership situations, you should tell your mentee about it and ask how she would handle it. Some examples might include a staff member who is threatening to resign; a board member making a request that you are uncomfortable fulfilling; or perhaps a vendor that is falling behind on deliverables.”

Those are just a few examples to help frame discussions that are more likely to yield actionable outcomes.

Enrich a mentoring relationship

Here is where the fun comes in. Mentoring relationships can lead to rich interpersonal interactions that can last for as short as a year or much longer. There are lots of things that can add a little excitement and maximize mentoring moments:

-Plan a spa day, or better yet an overnight mentoring retreat at a local hotel or B&B with a spa close by. This is great to do at the beginning of your mentoring relationship, or to mark the conclusion of your time together.

-Escape for a day to New York and catch a Broadway play. Who wouldn’t want to play hooky from a day at work and head to New York City on one of those cheap bus lines? The time on the bus will allow for uninterrupted time to talk.

-Explore your creative side. Arrange to spend a few hours engaged in some sort of craft activity, like a pottery-painting session, a jewelry-making class or some other artistic activity. You can talk and apply your creativity to problem-solving and situational analysis.

-Share your interests and talents with each other. Your mentee may be curious about golf, for example, and you happen to be a decent golfer. You may want to learn how to line dance, and your mentee is up on the latest moves. It sounds as though both of you can learn from each other.

-Support a good cause together….participate together in a one-day activity such as a day for habitat, serving lunch at a soup kitchen, or participating in a charity walk and talk while you make strides for a good cause.

-Experience an event together. The next time you see a promotion for an interesting event, lecture or a panel discussion on a topic that would benefit you or your mentee, plan to attend together.

-Help each other to develop your skills. Your mentee needs to develop her presentation skills, and you need to conquer your fear of social media. Engage in a bit of shared learning by bartering your skills with each other.

-Treat yourselves to Sunday brunch once a month. So many restaurants now offer Sunday brunch, and it’s a great way to check out new locations and engage in good conversation during a time when you are both more relaxed.

-Take turns planning an event. Mentoring is a two-way relationship, so take turns planning an activity to add a bit of variety as well as share responsibility for making your mentoring relationship fun and interesting. Just be sure you are on the same page in terms of what each of you is prepared to spend to minimize a potentially awkward situation regarding money.

-Team up with another mentoring pair. Chances are great that you know another woman who is a mentor. Why not team up to experience one or more of these ideas together and work in a group mentoring session while you’re at it?

I hope these suggestions inspire you to explore how you can liven up an existing mentoring relationship or commit to embarking on a new one. Mentoring is an invaluable and easy way to gain good sage advice, or give back what someone did for you earlier in your career. Either way, everyone wins.

A member of The Daily Record’s Maryland Top 100 Women Circle of Excellence, Luwanda Walker Jenkins is Special Secretary of the Governor’s Office of Minority Affairs. You can email her at luwandajenkins@luwandajenkins.org.