You may know that you want to be a nurse leader but are unsure about your next career step. A good mentor can open doors to new learning and help you grow as an emerging nurse leader. Unlike the preceptor relationship which you may be familiar with in the clinical setting, a mentor provides career guidance and help you become more aware of your strengths and areas where you need development. Mentoring is an important career strategy. An ideal mentor for an emerging nurse leader is someone who is knowledgeable, has leadership experience and is interested in helping you to grow.
Finding the right mentor can be challenging. Although some organizations have formal mentoring programs and assign mentors, research shows that you may receive the best mentoring experience 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:
1. 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?
2. Reflect on your own preferences
It is important to choose a mentor that you will find easy to talk to and be with so think about what personality type complements your own. Identify your own strengths and weakness and look for a mentor who has traits that you would like to develop in yourself.
3. Decide what qualities you want in a mentor
A nurse leader mentor should be someone that you admire and feel is an excellent role model for professional behavior. He or she should be an excellent 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 provide the best guidance.
4. 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.
5. Make a list of potential mentors
As a last step, identify potential mentors who match the requirements that you have identified above. Think about nurse leaders you have worked with or nurse leaders that 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 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. This happen to me early in my career and initially, I felt hurt by the response. I later realized that this mentor had many responsibilities that would have prevented her from being a good mentor. 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.
It is important to respect your mentor’s time. Set an agenda for each followup meeting and set 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.
A good mentor will push you out of your comfort zone and help you achieve bigger things than you ever imagined for yourself. Be sure to show appreciation.
During the course of your career, your mentoring needs will change and you may find yourself changing mentors several times. At some point in your career, it will be your turn to give back. Mentoring is a gift and one that hopefully you can eventually pass on by mentoring others.