Blogger Jaime Eastman

Mastering Mentorship: Tips for Success

A hand writes the word mentoring in red letters

Mentorship is an important part of professional development and growth. But how would you define mentorship? Writing this post, I struggled to find a definition that resonated. Too many focused on the ambiguous work of a mentor, failing to define either mentor or work. Finally I found this beautiful definition:

A hand writes the word mentorship in pink chalk on a blackboard

Mentorship is an intentional effort to support, encourage, and/or motivate someone in a particular space…who has less experience/expertise/creativity than you do in that space.

Kathy Fall

I love how this definition captures so many parts of mentorship. Moreover, it doesn’t require years of experience, specific skills, or job titles. Instead, it focuses on everyone having something to offer others. For me, that’s key. I’ll be focusing on mentors and mentees as equally important participants in the relationship.

Find Your Fit

It’s important to find a relationship that works. Mentorship should match your specific needs in this moment. To start, try these things.

  • Know what you want to learn or share. As a mentee, think about what you want to learn. Then, identify others with that expertise. As a mentor, think about your strengths or lessons learned. First write clear goals, then look for opportunities that match.
  • Consider different relationships. Mentorship can be one-on-one, small group, peer-to-peer, or leader-to-learner. Approaches can be informal, spontaneous, or structured. Think about where you’ll feel comfortable and any outside considerations like time, cost, or travel.
  • Fill your gaps. Look for opportunities that broaden your perspective. Instead of looking for someone just like you, look for a relationship that challenges you. Shared interests are important, but diversity is also important for learning and growth.

Be Intentional

Next, set aside time and energy specifically for mentorship. This intentionality keeps conversations on track, encourages growth, and provides clarity. Here are some ideas.

  • Ask questions. Don’t assume you know something because of your shared history, stereotypes, or ideas. In other words, ask more questions and check that you really understand each other.
  • Invest time and effort. Block the time you need not only for formal meetings, but also for processing and exploration. The more you put into mentorship, the more you get out. Start simply, choosing one thing and exploring it fully.
  • Define goals and needs. First, be clear about what you hope to achieve and what you need to get there. Then, find strategies that work best for your unique relationship. Agree on when, where, and how often you’ll meet. Also, create a general outline of a session.

Offer Support

Further, support each other throughout your mentorship. Growth is hard, confusing, and sometimes scary. So, consider these tips.

  • Respect boundaries. Outline anything off limits or any specific boundaries. You don’t have to understand the why behind a boundary to respect it. Rather, it’s enough that you uphold them.
  • Practice accountability. Be accountable to each other’s unique goals and follow through on commitments. If needed, gently call each other out and get back on track. Mistakes are part of our growth process. Sharing honestly about failure builds a growth mindset, and conversation adds perspective.
  • Take notes and share resources. Capture ideas, information, and resources for future reference. Notes demonstrate your interest and help you remember important details. Whether it’s a project template, article, or personal connection, both parties should share with each other. The ultimate goal is mutual learning and development.

Give Encouragement

Similarly, encourage each other. Whether you need encouragement to try new things or a gentle reminder of your progress, mentorship can help. Try one of these ideas.

  • Ask for and apply feedback. Use specific questions. Then, take time to assess and apply the feedback. Even if you don’t agree with everything, this still inspires personal growth.
  • Be aware of blind spots. First, be willing to kindly share if you observe unintentional biases or blind spots in others. Then, assume good intentions. Do let others know when their words, actions, or assumptions don’t align with their intentions. Finally, accept feedback if someone shares with you.
  • Share stories, not instructions. Mentorship is about sharing experiences and expertise, but also finding your own path. Stories are helpful, but each party must evaluate them against their own experience, choosing what to apply and how. Leave space to evaluate, tweak, and grow.

Provide Motivation

Often, shared investment in our success is a huge motivator. Mentorship offers unique opportunities to motivate each other in projects, growth, and professional journeys. Here are some examples.

  • Have more than one mentorship. Seek out different relationships for different needs. Sometimes you might be the mentee, and sometimes the mentor. Building a community of connection is huge. You don’t have to learn everything at once, or even from the same person.
  • Maintain relationships. Some relationships last for particular seasons or projects, and some last longer. Check in with each other, even if you no longer need or expect formal support.
  • Practice gratitude and celebrate achievements. Appreciate the time, energy, and resources invested. Share gratitude in ways that resonate, whether that’s a handwritten note, a thoughtful email, or good conversation. Likewise, make time to recognize each achievement and its hard work, from trying new things to accomplishing bigger goals.

I’m sure this list misses points. What tips for mentors or mentees would you include? Drop them in the comments. Let’s build a great community together.

Jaime Eastman is a senior Public Services Librarian and Early Learning Coordinator at the Harrington Library, one of the Plano (Texas) Public Library locations. She’s currently serving as a member of the ALSC Board of Directors. Jaime is also working on at least two ambitious cross stitch projects, dreaming of future travel plans, and reading far too many books at once. As a child, she wanted to grow up to be an author. Writing for the blog and publishing with Children and Libraries feel like a good start, and she regrets nothing about her adult decision to be a librarian doing storytimes who didn’t have to grow up too much. All images created using graphics freely available from Pixabay.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *