By Kathryn Nenning
If, as incentive for you to improve your map reading skills, your aunt refuses to leave a roundabout until you have figured out which exit to take, how would you describe that aunt 15 years later?
Similarly, if while packing your bags because learning Italian in a language camp, despite being located in Italy, proved impossible because outside the few hours of lessons everyone around you was speaking their native language, and that same aunt called and told you to report for duty in the kitchen of a restaurant in Rome (so that you would either learn Italian or starve trying), how would you view her through the distance of time?
If you are Tina Deutsch, you would describe that aunt as your first mentor.
Tina has had a stellar career, first in the corporate world leading large transformation programs and managing international teams, and then founding her own start-up, which made her one of the most successful entrepreneurs in Austria. She says that finding the right type of mentor at the right time enabled her to achieve so much at such a young age.
Mentoring is something most of us have heard of, but Tina seems to have a unique take on it. She finds that there are many types of mentors, including stern aunts, and one can have more than one at a time, a phenomon she likes to refer to as having ‘a personal Board of Advisors’.
Having different types of mentors at different stages of one’s life and career is important because, according to Tina, ‘multiple mentors can create a network that you rely on for different things at different times. Each mentor on your Board brings with them a unique perspective, skill set, and history of experiences that you can leverage. The makeup of your personal Board of Advisors will depend entirely upon the types of mentors you seek out and connect with.‘ Tina also points out that it is very rare that one person can give you everything you need to grow, and that it would be a lot of pressure on a mentoring relationship to have such expectations.
Tina discussed these different types of mentors at the PWN Vienna’s September Linkup & Learn – a monthly lecture and networking event, in a presentation titled ‘The Three Types of Mentors You Need in Your Life’. As Tina hinted above, there are many types of mentor relationships other than the typical senior/junior one. She has cleverly named the three main ones as follows:
Aspirational Mentor or The Guru: An aspirational mentor is someone you can look to for inspiration. They have qualities you admire and that you want to develop within yourself. They show you what is possible. Often, they are iconic figures in a specific area, and are several steps „ahead“ of you in terms of experience and personal development. Study them - and if you can, talk to them - to figure out how you might adapt your journey to reach what you want to reach.
Practical Mentor or The Anchor: A practical mentor is someone you might seek if you need a real-world take on how to approach a problem or situation. While a practical mentor can inspire you, their main goal is to listen and give you practical guidance that you can apply immediately; they can give examples of how they tackled similar situations. They can also provide you with a safe place to vent your frustrations without fear of reprisals at work. Practical mentors can be particularly insightful when it comes to setting priorities, achieving work-life balance, and not losing sight of your values.
Sponsor Mentor or The Connector: They help you navigate through company politics, make useful connections, put you in exposed positions. As champion of your cause and of you, these mentorsare people who are advocates and who have your back when office politics get sticky.
After describing the different types of mentors one could have, Tina gave a clear description of how to go about creating your own personal Board of Advisors.
The first, and most critical step, is identifying exactly what goal you want a mentor to help you to achieve, or what problem or situation you need help solving. Next is finding someone who has the experience or expertise to help you. According to Tina, the goal or problem must be concrete and specific, not only for identifying the right mentor, but also for approaching them and, if they agree to mentor you, for making the relationship successful.
Who would make a good mentor for you? Tina suggests you consider:
Someone with whom you already have a relationship
Someone who is familiar with your situation and understands the context, but isn’t a direct co-worker or manager
Someone who has experience with a similar issue or who might have a unique approach to yourspecific situation
Someone who’s a few steps ahead in a specific area, and able to help you reflect and give you perspective on your issues
A peer who may be close to the issues you’re struggling with
Someone who can realistically take the time to help you
Tina also advises looking for the following qualities:
Someone who believes in you and who is willing to work with you on your dreams
Someone who helps you by pointing out potential blind spots, and by holding you accountable
Someone who doesn‘t give you answers, but instead helps you with how to think about the problem
Someone who you trust and will keep conversations confidential
Someone who you know has the time to help (this tip is worth repeating!)
Once you have identified someone as a potential mentor, approach them with your request, and take the time to develop a genuine connection with them, don’t just lay the problem in front of them. Additionally, make it clear that you see the mentoring relationship as a two-way street, and offer to assist them with anything they may need help with.
The next thing to consider is how to make sure the experience is successful and mutually beneficial. This question is particulary relevant for those who are part of a mentoring program, such as the one offered by the PWN, who may not know their mentor beforehand.
Tina first suggests keeping in mind that mentoring relationships are ‘dynamic, personal, and fluid; they should suit your needs and change as needed over time‘.
More specifically, Tina feels that the following are critical for a good mentoring relationship:
A mentee needs to put in the work and follow up with their mentor’s suggestions – the mentee will earn the mentor’s respect, and the mentor will feel appreciated
Keep in mind that mentors are there to teach you, not solve your problems for you
Be open to their suggestions – they should be challenging you and pushing you out of your comfort zone – don’t resist!
Continue to be clear both with yourself and your mentor about what you need – be flexible and not attached to a specific outcome, goals can change over time
If the relationship isn’t working, don’t waste either person’s time
Again, offer to help your mentor – it is a two-way street, and they will appreciate the thought
Be respectful of a mentor’s time – successful people are busy, don’t be too needy
Be a fan, if you weren’t beforehand, try and be a customer of their business; attend any events where they might be a speaker, and follow them on social media if they are active online
Let them know how their work affected you; people like to know they have an impact
Although the majority of Tina’s advice addressed the benefits of having a mentor, she also described how being a mentor can work wonders. She knows, having often been a mentor herself. Here’s how mentors benefit from supporting mentees:
Mentorship often requires mentors to put themselves in their mentees’ shoes. This kind of empathy is equally important for leadership in the workplace, as it enables managers to build an understanding of what each employee needs and appropriately adjust their style.
The best mentors are able to establish a culture of trust in order to build a solid relationship with their mentees – this is similarly critical to developing a strong, engaged team in the workplace.
Mentoring increases your feeling of purpose.
And keep in mind, one is never too old or too experienced to need a mentor. Tina tells of how, when she sold the majority of her company two years ago, she needed someone with whom she could discuss all of her questions. She approached an entrepreneur she admired, who had also built a start-up himself; explained her specific request, and asked for his help. He not only answered many of her questions, but was also her sparring partner during the negotiations, and she credits his mentorship with contributing to the success of the final contract.
A journey that began with 27 turns around a traffic circle currently finds Tina as an entrepreneur with a successful business, balanced by a young family. Thanks to the many mentors in her life, starting with that aunt, she is now passing on what she has learned to the next generation of mentees, with the hope that each will be able to create their very own Board of Personal Advisors.