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Make the Most of a Mentorship Program to Advance Your Career at any Level

Jan 18, 2018 2 MIN.

Refining your personal brand can open doors and build lasting opportunities. Here's how to get it right.

When Sandra Espinel started the ICF mentorship process, she realized the need to be open and ready for change in order to make progress. She contemplated where she was, what she might need to change, and where she ultimately wanted to end up.

“My mentor played a pivotal role in helping me identify changes to implement to move forward with renewed excitement for my career growth,” said Espinel. “She was amazingly supportive and I always felt free to discuss with complete honesty my failures and challenges during the process. I felt accountable to her during the process and that truly helped me succeed. I felt like we were a team.”

A mentorship program can:

  • Improve connection and communication across operating units and locations.
  • Enable relationships that advance learning and growth.
  • Grow future leaders.

However, the best mentoring relationships work when learning can be a “mutual exchange,” Jelena Hill writes in the Harvard Business Review.

“This mentor process is not only a career journey, it’s also a journey in personal growth. I am a better person and employee because of it and will definitely share my journey and lessons learned with others,” said Espinel.

More than 300 mentor-mentee pairs at ICF are focusing on topics such as business development, project management, financial management, balancing work and life as a new parent, strategic thinking, managing people and teams, and more.

To cultivate a successful mentor-mentee relationship, use these five guiding principles to make the most of your mentorship.

  1. Be committed and available
  2. Whether you’re meeting in person, over the phone or through video chat, be committed to the mentorship. Understand that it will take time, and be available for your mentor/mentee. Take ownership for the program, and follow up with any necessary actions.

  3. Make listening your number one priority
  4. Use active listening techniques like asking questions and rephrasing feedback or advice in your own words. Remember that your eye contact, gestures and body language can also demonstrate whether you are listening. By nodding, smiling and using verbal cues, you can show the speaker you’re paying attention.

  5. Leave your comfort zone
  6. Be open to taking risks! Don’t shy away from new learning experiences… Risks can help you to discover your true self and reach your personal and professional goals. Remember, it’s okay to be vulnerable and not have all the answers.

  7. Learn to appreciate feedback
  8. The best mentorships are built on honesty and trust, and it’s important to keep that in mind when it comes time for feedback. Feedback isn’t always the easiest to take – or give – especially when it’s difficult. Learn to accept feedback graciously. Take time to give it some thought, and remember that your mentor is there to guide you in the right director. For mentors, it’s crucial to provide feedback with empathy.

  9. Question everything
  10. Seek clarification and feedback by asking the right questions at the right time. Try asking thought-provoking questions like, “Why do you think this is happening?” or “How did you come to that conclusion?” to help guide discovery and solutions. These types of questions will help challenge assumptions, rationale and perspectives.

    “Each month we worked on specific goals and strategies to move toward sustained change. During our final check-in I realized that all of the little changes I had been making worked. Each of those little changes were actually interconnected and all finally came together the Friday before our final meeting,” said Espinel. “For the first time in years, my task list was up-to-date and manageable; I could sit quietly and think about my work more strategically and at a much deeper level, and start planning for future tasks without excess worry and mental baggage.”

Are you ready for a mentorship program?

"The key to a successful mentorship program is to make it easy for the mentors and mentees to get involved and stay engaged,” said Liz Janssen, vice president of Learning & Development for ICF. “At ICF, we use MentorcliQ’s award-winning mentoring software to make it easy for you to sign up and then match you with the right mentor/mentee. This produces very engaging and rewarding mentoring relationships." 

What mentorship experiences and tips have been the most impactful for you? Share your feedback on LinkedIn and Twitter and tag @ICF to let us know!

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