By Rose O. Sherman, EdD, RN, NEA-BC, FAAN
So many young nurse leaders today don’t have mentors. This is unfortunate because mentors can be invaluable in helping you with your professional development. It is very different than coaching or being a preceptor that you received when you were a new graduate where the focus is usually on the improvement of performance.
Drawing on their own experience as some who has “been there”, mentors are able to provide guidance by sharing their advice, knowledge and feedback. The mentor may or may not work in the same organization. For brand new leaders, there are advantages to having internal mentors who can give new nurse managers guidance, advice, wisdom, feedback and encouragement. Good mentors can also be very helpful to both emerging and seasoned nurse leaders by giving you invaluable career advice and acting as a sounding board during challenging times.
Finding the right mentor can be challenging. Although some organizations assign mentors, research shows that you may have a better mentoring experience in some situations if you find your own mentor. As you begin the process of trying to identify who might be the best mentor for you, use the following 5 steps:
- Ask yourself what you want from a mentor and the mentoring experience.
Before you approach anyone to mentor you, it is important to think about what you want from the mentor. Are you looking for career guidance, personal development, a shadowing experience, networking opportunities or guidance on how to handle a difficult professional situation. If you are new to a leadership role, you will want help with how to navigate the role expectations within your organization. At other times in your career, you may seek mentorship to help with a career transition. What you want from the experience helps to determine whether you should look for a mentor within or outside your organization.
- Reflect on your own preferences
It is important to choose a mentor that you will find easy to talk to and has a personality type that complements your own. Identify your own strengths and weakness. Look for a mentor who has traits that you would like to develop in yourself.
- Decide what qualities you want in a mentor
A leader mentor should be someone that you admire and feel is an excellent role model for professional behavior. He or she should be a good listener and someone who will be honest with you. Although your mentor can be of any age, someone who is 5 to 10 years ahead of you in their nursing leadership journey can often provide the best guidance.
- Consider availability
Although you may be tempted to choose a nationally known leader to mentor you, it is important to consider geographic proximity. Think about the ease of getting together to talk. You will also want to think about whether you want a mentor from within the organization where you currently work.
- Make a list of potential mentors
As a last step, identify potential mentors who match the requirements that you have identified above. Think about leaders you have worked with or those you have met in professional organizations. Ask others for suggestions. Learn as much as you can about the mentors that you are considering. Don’t assume because they are nationally known that they wouldn’t be interested in mentoring you. It never hurts to ask.
Once you have identified a possible mentor, ask him or her to lunch or coffee to discuss the idea of mentoring. The personal approach is always best but if they don’t live geographically close, you can make your request by email, letter or telephone. Prepare good questions to ask during your initial meeting. Explain why you have chosen them and what type of support you need. Remember that mentoring is a two-way street so talk about what you will bring to the mentoring relationship.
If the mentor turns you down, don’t take it personally. Be sure to say thank you for considering it and ask for other suggestions for mentors. Managing awkward situations well will make a good impression on the nurse leader even if he or she does not mentor you. When a leader agrees to mentor you, it is important to respect their time. Set an agenda for each follow-up meeting and a timeline for the goals that you mutually establish. If the mentor offers suggestions, be sure to follow through on them. Be willing to do some stretch assignments that demonstrate that you are committed to the mentoring experience. It is rare to have just one mentor across your career. As you grow, the type of mentorship you need will also change. The important thing is to get started and don’t wait for someone to ask if you need one because if you do, it may not happen.
© emergingrnleader.com 2017