Want to Innovate? Science Says, “Be Mentored!”

Want to Innovate? Science Says, “Be Mentored!”

Education October 18, 2018 / By Dr. KH Kim
Want to Innovate? Science Says, “Be Mentored!”

A mentor neither appears with angel wings falling from the heavens nor is a gift given to mentees. A mentee earns mentors through a mentored attitude, which is one of the most critical attitudes that all exceptionally successful individuals exhibit.

Kim’s CATs model (2016) identifies three steps that lead to individuals’ success: first, cultivate the Climates for success; second, nurture the Attitudes that successful individuals exhibit; and third, apply Thinking skills to achieve success. Like climates that are essential to successful gardening, the Sun, Storm, Soil, and Space (4S) climates are keys to promoting and highlighting individuals’ successful attitudes, regardless of their inborn potential. A mentorship is a mutually-beneficial relationship in which mentees earn mentors through their mentored attitude, which is one of the most critical attitudes (i.e. characteristics, personality traits, behaviors, etc.) that all exceptionally successful individuals exhibit.

Developing the Mentored Attitude

Mentors tend to be exceptionally successful and know how to leverage resources to help the right people. Mentors help those who are willing to help themselves to make the investment of their valuable time worthwhile.  First, mentees must develop their mentored attitude and prove themselves to get noticed by potential mentors through:

·      Demonstrating dedication to their favorite subject and taking it seriously with intensity and passion

·      Expressing themselves clearly and honestly so that mentors get to know the mentees’ real values, challenges, and aspirations

·      Telling their story and vision in a concise, inspiring, compelling, and meaningful way, and committing to achieving their vision with an extraordinary focus

·      Being accountable for their actions to support their short-and long-term goals, and seeking complementary skills and experiences from the mentorship relationship to pursue goals

How to Find a Mentor: Establish a Connection

Mentees may ask for an introduction to potential mentors through mutual connections to establish a quicker sense of trust, or introduce themselves by crossing paths at events, live or online, where potential mentors attend. The mentored attitude includes mentees taking time to research someone mentees hope to be like, discover what potential mentors can offer, and be specific about how the mentors can help them.

After mentees find mentors, the mentorship is built into a mutually-beneficial relationship.  The mentored attitude includes mentees approaching mentors with professional admiration, not personal adoration, and asking for advice or guidance, not mentorship. It also includes recognizing the different strengths of different mentors, keeping realistic expectations, maintaining an informal and flexible relationship, and continuously building the mentoring relationships.  

The mentored attitude also includes mentees adding value greater than the time that mentors spend on them before expecting anything in return by:

·      Considering what to offer to mentors; demonstrating knowledge, skills, or resources that can be beneficial to mentors; assisting with projects or tasks; and sharing their thoughts and opinions

·      Making the mentorship enjoyable (not a chore) to mentors, and bringing humor to challenges

·      Being a good listener, and approaching mentors’ advice with energy and interest

·      Acting on mentors’ advice and modifying mentees’ beliefs, instead of seeking confirmations of what they already believe

·      Using time with mentors wisely by asking questions that cannot be easily found, being prepared and present for meetings, and taking notes during meetings

·      Bringing solutions, not just questions; seeking perspective and guidance, not answers; and finding solutions using mentors’ perspective and guidance as a map to determine general directions

·      Following up and following through after meetings to share mentorship results and impacts on their career

·      Mastering knowledge and skills in their chosen area while remaining teachable by continuously evaluating themselves

Cultivating the Mentorship, Even Through Challenges

Friends may tell friends what they want to hear, but mentors tell mentees what they need to hear. Mentees must be prepared for what they dislike to hear and take constructive criticisms as compliments. The relationship becomes comfortable enough for mentors to give criticisms, and mentors care about and invest in mentees to guide them toward success, instead of just making them feel better. The mentored attitude includes appreciating mentors’ brutally honest feedback by:

·      Being honestly open and humble about the gaps between their knowledge and their mentors’, and willing to be taught, demonstrating their penchant for learning

·      Soliciting and graciously accepting mentors’ direct, specific, and actionable feedback; and asking specific questions about how to learn from mistakes and improve for the challenges ahead, instead of taking it personally when challenged

·      Encouraging mentors to push them to try new things or test new ideas, and increasing mentees’ self-efficacy in their chosen area by exploring beyond their comfort zone

Show That You’re Listening

The mentored attitude also includes mentees showing appreciation, gratitude, generosity, and loyalty to mentors by:

·       Going the extra mile to show their:

o   Gratitude both verbally and through actions, such as thoughtfully writing thank-you notes or emails

o   Investment in their continued growth and updating mentors with their progress

·       Building their partnership through regular updates, instead of contacting the mentors only when help is needed

·       Sharing or recommending resources, articles, books, posts, or other information that might be interesting or useful to mentors and saving mentors’ time in searching for such information

·       Updating mentors with newfound insights in their subject matter, such as new ideas or technologies

·      Working diligently on issues and ideas important to mentors; requesting more responsibilities; and contributing in deep, expansive ways

·      Finding and offering help to mentors, and making mentors feel special by creating something for them or giving ideas

·      Publicly crediting who and what got them there, and paying it forward by encouraging future mentees with the same value and attention that their own mentors had given them

What Does the Mentee Offer?

Mentors and mentees grow from each other’s ideas and enthusiasm, as well as recognize, support, and celebrate each other’s achievements. Mentorships ensure healthy and thriving relationships and revitalize mentors’ productivity by welcoming critical thinking and disagreements. At this stage of the mentoring relationship, the mentored attitude includes mentees not only taking but also giving feedback to their mentors and disagreeing with them by:

·      Challenging mentors, and voicing their opinions tactfully and respectfully, not defensively

·      Offering fact-based, constructive feedback on mentors’ projects by explaining reasons for pros and cons and providing suggestions for improvement

·      Articulating, discussing, and debating ideas, which sharpen mentees’ critical thinking skills and provide mentors with new perspectives and stimulation

Mentorships Cultivate the 4S Climates

Mentorship focuses on both personal and professional development, where mentors are trusted role models for mentees. Mentors share their expertise and academic knowledge, provide mentees with intellectual and psychological support; and advance mentees’ knowledge and skills through positive and negative feedback.

Bright sun, fierce storms, diverse soil, and free space (4S) climates are necessary for mentees to flourish, and mentorships cultivate the 4S when mentors:

1)    Inspire mentees to pursue big ideas and encourage them to follow their curiosities to turn these big ideas into reality (like the bright Sun) by:

o   Encouraging playful thinking and questioning

o   Helping to identify specific interests to build on

o   Fostering mentees’ open-mindedness to new and challenging opportunities

2)    Set high expectations and challenge mentees with brutally honest feedback in non-hierarchical relationships (like a fierce Storm) by:

o   Being impartial and providing mentees with positive and negative feedback

o   Instilling self-discipline and self-efficacy on mentees’ specific strengths while treating them as equals

3)    Provide mentees with diverse resources, experiences, and viewpoints (like diverse elements in Soil), instead of giving the right answer to a problem, by:

o   Teaching mentees to be resourceful and access resources for their learning and growth

o   Discussing mentees’ values and career goals yet providing them with different perspectives

o   Networking them with collaborators within their area of interest

4)    Provide mentees with the emotional safety to think and behave differently (like open Space) by:

o   Motivating mentees to embrace new opportunities, and scaffolding guidance for mentees so they will eventually walk, run, and fly independently

o   Encouraging mentees to discover their uniqueness, take intellectual risks, and use their uniqueness to defy the crowd and achieve their goal

The mentor relationship is a unique and profound experience.  It can be life-changing and make the difference between stagnation and amazing growth.  If you take the time to prepare yourself and develop a mentored attitude, you can put yourself in the right position to develop a transformative relationship with a mentor and unleash your underlying talents and creativity.

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