I am a big believer in the value mentors play in a lawyer’s career. I count myself lucky to have had a number of great mentors over the course of my own career. These relationships really helped me to make big career decisions and provided great sounding boards when I needed advice about a particular issue or challenge I was facing. I have also been fortunate to have mentored a number of lawyers (and other professionals) and have also found these relationships invaluable.
Whether you’re in-house, in private practice or looking for a new opportunity, mentoring provides an avenue to exchange support and guidance on matters from the day-to-day to career-defining decisions. But what makes a mentoring relationship truly great?
Communication and trust are obviously important in any good relationship, but they are essential in a mentoring relationship. To get the most out of the relationship you both want to be able share war stories and current issues without fear of disclosure. You also want to be able to have an open dialogue and provide honest, constructive feedback. Like in any relationship, to build trust and communication it is often best to start by getting to know each other better, understanding work experiences, personal commitments, values and goals. When
I started my career in private practice, I sought mentors in partners outside of my practice group and because I didn’t work closely with those partners day-to-day, it was crucial that we built a relationship that was based on mutual respect and trust.
Setting short and long-term goals is the best way to create a road map for achieving successful outcomes in a formal mentoring relationship. This is also when responsibilities should be clearly defined. It will assist if the mentee has explicit goals and is specific about what they want to achieve from the mentoring relationship. This will also help set an agenda for your meetings and will usually define the period of a formal mentoring arrangement.
While formal mentoring relationships are an excellent means for assisting with short-term goals and setting longer-term objectives, informal mentoring relationships also play an important role. While it isn’t necessary to set goals, it is still important to be clear about what it is you are seeking from your mentor when you approach them for advice. Do you just want to bounce ideas around? Do you want to know what they would do in your shoes? Do you want them to reach out to their contacts to assist you? It is important to be clear about what you are seeking and, sometimes, more importantly, what you don’t want.
The best mentoring relationships are rewarding for both mentor and mentee; usually because they provide both parties an opportunity to be challenged by new thinking. Excellent mentoring relationships leave both parties feeling invigorated after a meeting. For mentees, it provides a safe environment to discuss new ideas without judgement. For mentors it is in the ability to consider a mentee’s feedback on suggested pathways. This requires both participants to be open to feedback and, of course, good communication.
Sometimes an outside perspective can really challenge current thinking, goals or perspectives. I recall a conversation with a mentee who was striving for promotion to a particular role. When I asked him what it was he enjoyed most about his current role and what enticed him to the new role, it was very clear that there was little alignment between the two.
Overall, my advice is simple: be open and honest while challenging each other in a constructive manner. Put in the time to make it a great experience. If you are participating in a formal mentoring program ensure you do the work and preparation not only to get the most out of the experience but also out of respect for the time your mentor or mentee is contributing to the program.
Mentoring is not only for those at the beginning of their careers: it is a beneficial tool at all stages of a career. If you are interested in a formal mentoring relationship, I highly recommend the Association of Corporate Counsel Australia’s Future Leaders Mentoring Program which Orbit proudly sponsors.