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The Essential Role a Mentor Can Play in Your Work

We tend to think of mentoring as something designed to help you climb to that next rung in a company or to solve some issue, but it can play an essential role.

June 23, 2022
March 8, 2023

The essential role a mentor can play in your work

Creating doesn’t have to be a solo activity. Even though you’re building up your own portfolio under your own name using your own insights, there are others who have done the same. One of the key ways to make sure you’re benefiting from the lessons from others is mentorship.

Most of us think about mentorship as being something that might happen in a workplace between a younger employee and a more experienced one. Or, as many companies are now doing, with a younger employee mentoring an older one about new skills and technologies. For creators, though, the mentorship happens across more laterally — people who have been honing their voices in different industries than yours or on different platforms.

For this week’s Creator Weekly, I talked to two mentoring experts about the ways to successfully find a mentor, the benefits of being a mentor, and why it’s particularly useful for creators.

Everyone can be a mentor

Tina Ruseva is the Munich-based Founder & CEO of peer-to-peer mentoring site Mentessa. She’s determined to make sure skills are being shared no matter the background of the person who is doing the sharing: “Everyone can be a creator. I think everyone can be a mentor too,” she says.

“There are two kinds of skills that are necessary to be a great creator,” she says. “One is methodical skills, like some specific skill sets, some formal knowledge that other creators can absolutely help you learn faster. But on the other side, great creators all have this spark of inspiration in how they do it. For staying inspired and on track, we all kind of need a buddy that keeps us on track and can mirror you from time to time.”

Tina has taken part in dozens of mentoring programs and has watched the mentoring take place on her platform. She has developed some theories about how to be a good mentor and who to look for. Her advice applies to creators, but she also thinks that being flexible about who can be a mentor and what you expect to get out of the experience is necessary in a world of distributed work. Her tips:

Everyone can be a mentor

  • While companies tend to assign people mentors, in a self-organizing world like the creator economy, you should search for your mentor out of the experiences you have. “I believe that you need to meet a lot of people in order to find your mentors,” she says. “And this is how, for example, I use LinkedIn. I use it to meet a lot of people, to talk to everybody.“

  • Mentoring can go both ways; there’s no rule that says only one person can be teaching.

  • Avoid rigid guidance when mentoring. “Who knows the future of work or the future of whatever anymore?” she says. “It's just too complicated, too complex to grasp. Just help people be stronger, be more of themselves, bring their strengths, bring their willingness to contribute to something.”

Done right, a great mentor makes you reach higher and farther than you did before you started the relationship, she says. “This is the impact that a really great mentor can make in the person's life or career. You thought you just wanted some followers. Wow. Suddenly you're becoming a leader. Suddenly you're inspiring the community and you thought you wanted some followers. And I think this is a great mentor’s role.”

Hitendra Wadhwa, a Columbia Business School professor and founder of the Mentora Institute, a consultancy and training organization that helps organizations and individuals reach their full potential, takes a more formal approach to mentoring than Tina. He sees mentoring as less of a two-way street, but he’s also expansive about who and what can be thought of as a mentor.

Mentoring to provide guidance and encouragement

If mentoring is designed to help the mentee bring out the best form of themselves, Hitendra believes that life experiences and you, yourself, can be your own mentor. The latter requires you to tune out the day-to-day and give yourself time to sit with your thoughts: “Then a new voice starts to get activated,” he says. “And that becomes, in a sense, your mentor and your guide and it makes you aware of a very subtle stirring.”

But if, like me, you’re looking to an outside mentor to provide guidance and encouragement, Hitendra says you should seek out someone who is willing to get to know you for more than your content. “To me, the most powerful role a mentor can play is to awaken the creator to the full potential. … Each of us as creators, is striving to offer a voice in helping support what we see as advancing humanity in some way, advancing business, advancing professional life, but more broadly today and on LinkedIn, starting to become a little bit more aware of the fact that humanity is being expressed [more than] just the mechanical work... That 'core mentor' actually sees you for who you are at your core, who can sometimes awaken you to potentialities, to opportunities, to discoveries that you may not have otherwise been very conscious of.”

Finally, while the focus here is on finding a mentor, Tina points out there is real joy in being a mentor: "Studies show that happiness comes from great relationships and helping others," she says. "There is not a single person that doesn't come out of a helping sessions with a smile and like, ’Wow, this was so cool. They really needed what I said.’  There is no happiness you can compare with helping others.”

Mentoring key takeaways:

1) Mentoring can and should be a give and take. We can all seek to learn more from those around us, regardless of their title or age. This, in turn, will foster more inclusive and effective organizations and communities.

2) One of the greatest values of having a mentor at any stage in your life and career is to have someone to hold up a mirror and show you your blindspots — including what you might not realize you’re great at. We can all benefit from that kind of self-reflection from time to time.

3) A mentor doesn’t have to be another individual offering their advice or expertise. Mentoring can come in some surprising forms. Take the time to notice what there is to learn from your experiences.

To find out more about how Mentessa can foster a culture of connection and create a happier, more motivated and productive workforce:

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