Opposites Attract – but Should Opposites Mentor?

Written by Mark Rowland Thursday 05 December 2019
A mentor-mentee relationship can be extremely valuable.But should you and your mentor be similar people, or chalk and cheese?
Magnet and paper cut human figures

Pamela Dyson MA CMgr FCMI CPFA FMAAT FCCA has been involved with mentoring on and off for the best part of her career. She has been mentoring professionals through the NHS North West Leadership Academy, and students at Lancaster University, for the past 11 years.

“I realised that people could gain an awful lot from what I’d done, but I actually learned an awful lot as well, by taking on their perspectives and thinking about it and the work they were doing,” she says.

A different viewpoint on a problem can be an important source of growth and development. So should we be looking for mentors that challenge our points of view? Maybe, says Dyson. “As with many things, you need to start with what it is you want to achieve from mentoring as a mechanism for learning.”

Think About Your Goals

To know what kind of mentor you need, you have to be clear about your goals. Where are you now and where do you want to be? Do you have certain areas that you’d like to develop? Dyson starts her mentoring relationships with an exploratory conversation to determine if the match will work, and what form the mentoring will best take. She advises mentees to proactively seek to do this before starting a mentoring relationship.

“This is your relationship, it’s up to you to say whether the match is going to work or if it won’t. Further down the line, you might realise the same thing – ‘it’s not working for me, and therefore I’d like to stop’.”

Setting Ground Rules

That initial conversation is also a chance to set some ground rules and map out an approach for how the relationship will continue. It’s important to get these foundations right if you want the mentoring relationship to be valuable for both parties.

“If you can get the ground rules started in the first instance and get your objectives planned out, you’ve got a better chance of making the pairing work, rather than if you say: ‘I work in finance and you work in finance, and therefore we’re paired great together’.”

Put Your Career in Context

If you’ve pursued a career in an industry or discipline with specific challenges, or that is very traditional, you might want to look for a mentor that understands those challenges. In which case, you might want a mentor with a similar background to you.

“It can be beneficial to be mentored by someone within that environment, who helps you to see your way through, grow your network, and understand your behaviours within the context of that specific workplace.”

The Right Time to Be Challenged

In many situations, it can be very beneficial to have a mentor who is going to push your buttons. “If you’re coming to you wanting to change your behaviours, you need to be having quite challenging conversations.”

If you’re just coming into a first job or management position, however, you might be better finding a mentor who takes a gentler, more nurturing approach. In that case, you might want someone whose values and approach aligns closer with yours.

“It’s that first conversation that will help to make it clear with the mentor what is and isn’t possible and what should or shouldn’t be done, and to enable them to then work with the mentee to find the right fit.”

Remember – It’s Business

“It’s a business relationship – it’s not a friendship,” Dyson concludes. “Sometimes, the mentoring relationship may turn into a friendship after they’ve finished. But while they are your mentor, you have to be business-like about it.”

To connect with CMI qualified mentors, join the CMI mentoring scheme.

Image: Shutterstock