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March 01, 2023 Departments

Career Development and Wellness

Mentorship: Being a Guide, Finding a Guide—A Positive Mentorship Relationship Can Improve Wellbeing

Mary E. Vandenack

What Is a Mentor?

A mentor is a person who can provide support, guidance, encouragement, information, contacts, and guidance to another person. A mentor can provide support with respect to both personal development and professional development.

What Makes a Good Mentor?

I found the following quote about mentoring and thought it shared the heart of what mentoring can be. Bob Proctor says: “A mentor is someone who sees more talent and ability within you than you see in yourself and helps bring it out of you.”

A good mentor is a good listener. The good mentor asks questions and listens carefully to responses. The mentor gets to know what you are and where you are in life right now so that any support and guidance can be tailored specifically to what might help you on your life path.

A good mentor admits what the mentor doesn’t know. None of us can be all things to all people or even all things to one person. As a result of good listening, a good mentor will be able to identify where the mentor can provide support and where the mentee might be best served by the suggestion of an alternative resource.

More than One Mentor Is a Positive

I have long been a yoga teacher. I remember being at a national yoga conference and having a conversation with a popular yoga teacher. She had an almost cult-like following. In our conversation, she mentioned that she was seeking a way to convey to her students that they would all be best served by going to classes of many other teachers as well as her classes. She noted that her way of teaching was based only on her perspective and that our perspective overall would be broadened by hearing the views of others with knowledge and experience. This is true in our professional and personal lives. I have always had a few trusted mentors to provide guidance and support in various areas of my life.

When it comes to professional mentors, it is great if your employer provides a professional mentor. Even if we have a mentor in our own firm or business with whom we are a good match, there may be law or issues that are better discussed with someone who is not working in the same place. If the mentor at our place of work is not a good fit for us, it is even more important to seek outside mentoring.

Building the Mentoring Relationship

Just as with any other type of relationship, a mentoring relationship requires commitment from both the mentor and the mentee. Some mentoring relationships are formal. In that context, it is important to identify the goals of the relationship. In addition, it is important to discuss how often you will connect and the amount of time that you will spend. Both the mentor and the mentee should take responsibility for honoring the commitment to the relationship.

Mentoring Is a Two-Way Street

Another quote that I like is from Shunryu Suzuki: “In the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s, there are few.” Mentoring is truly a two-way relationship. One of the joys of mentoring for me is all that I learn from the mentee.

How Do I Find a Mentor or Become a Mentor?

In some cases, the answer is the same. An organization might have a formal mentoring program. Sometimes professional associations offer mentoring programs. For example, RPTE has a leadership mentoring program. Many state bar associations have mentoring programs.

Mentors can also be found informally. When I was a young lawyer, I would read a local business journal and look for women who were successful whom I would like to get to know. It was amazing how often I got a “yes” when I reached out. These are some of my best long-term mentoring relationships. Many of my mentors were in businesses other than law. They shared their business experiences with me and their views on how lawyers could improve their services and relationships with business clients.

The Joy of Zoom and National Organizations

I openly acknowledge that part of my commitment to the ABA is the result of the generous mentoring I received in so many areas of my life. Though the organization is a professional organization, the people whom I have gotten to know have offered me so much more than professional mentoring. I practice law in a small, big town. Everyone knows a lawyer or is related to a lawyer. As a result, it was difficult to feel comfortable in a mentoring relationship with another lawyer in my own hometown. Meeting people who had no connection to my home state but understood what I did made it easier to mentor. In an era of the readily-available videoconferencing, it is easy to remain connected or become connected to mentors outside of your own geographical area.

Mentor Relationships Enhance Wellbeing

A significant value of mentorship is that a positive mentoring relationship can improve the mental health and state of wellbeing of both the mentor and the mentee.

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Mary E. Vandenack

Contributing Author: Mary E. Vandenack, Vandenack Weaver LLC, 17007 Marcy Street, #3, Omaha, NE 68118.