• Whitney

To mentor or to mentee?


At this point in your career, you know that mentorship is key to women succeeding in international development leadership. But where to do place the emphasis - are you looking to mentor or be mentored? Today, I want to make the case that it's time for you to become a mentor.


I was truly confused the first time that someone came to me for advice. I was still early in my career and a peer was really struggling with how to navigate a particularly relationship with someone in our office. At first my imposter syndrome reared its ugly head, but as we talked more, I realized that I actually had good suggestions of strategies to test or different approaches to take. That experience, and many others like it, helped to inform the peer-to-peer mentoring approach which is central to our Emerging Leaders Program.


But you don't have to be part of a formal mentorship program to make the most of mentorship opportunities.

“For me, a mentor is someone who believes in you when you don’t believe enough in yourself.”

— Dr. Joanne Liu, international president at Médecins Sans Frontières (via Devex)



How do you know if you're ready to become a mentor?

Take a moment to think back in your career. Pull out a sheet of paper (or a sticky note, if you're obsessed like I am) and answer these questions really quickly:

  1. What kind of professional advice would you give your younger self?

  2. What strengths and values do you wish you had in a mentor?

  3. What professional victories are you most proud of?

  4. How do you envision you will impact other people's lives?

You have so much more to offer than you likely thought. You don't have to be perfect or an "expert" or even a senior manager in order to become a mentor. What do you have to have?

  • A sincere desire to get involved, listen, and care

  • Respect for the person you hope to mentor

  • Active listening skills

  • Empathy

  • Ability to see solutions and opportunities

  • Flexibility


What benefits might you experience as a mentor?

A common misconception is that mentoring only benefits young professionals seeking advice. But mentoring also benefits the mentor and is equally sought after by even the most senior experienced professionals. Serving as a mentor helps you widen your circles of influence, providing avenues to differing opinions and backgrounds, and opening opportunities to learn more.


Many mentors actually say that the rewards of mentorship they gain are as substantial as for their mentees, and mentoring has enabled them to:

  • Achieve personal growth and learn more about themselves

  • Improve their self-esteem and feel they are making a difference

  • Gain understanding of others' perspectives, cultures, and backgrounds

  • Feel more productive and have a better attitude at work

  • Enhance relationships with peers, subordinates, and other colleagues

Above all, mentorship serves as an opportunity to pause, reflect, and consider someone else's concerns and priorities. This selfless moment in your monthly or weekly schedule offers an chance to step back and look at a bigger picture beyond your day-do-day worries.


How can I become a mentor?

As I said - a formal program isn't necessary to start! Beginning with peer mentoring is an excellent way to start, without much pressure. Connect with a colleague you enjoy spending time with and ask to set up a monthly meeting to exchange advice on challenges you are facing at work.


Strong recommendation to prevent peer mentoring from devolving into a complaint-fest: give your monthly meetings guiding questions to keep some structure to it. Here are some examples to get you going:

  • Was there a time you messed up and felt like you'd failed? How did you recover?

  • Think back five years ago. Did you envision your career as it is today?

  • What there a role you applied for and landed, but weren't 100% qualified to do? How did you proceed?

  • What leadership skills have been the most difficult to develop?

  • How have you handled a difficult boss?

  • What's the most important leadership lesson you have learned?

  • What is one accomplishment you feel very proud of?

  • Who have you really enjoyed working with? What made that a success?

  • How have you stayed connected to people you used to work with or go to school with?

  • When you've tried to get buy-in on an idea, what tactics worked for you?

Now, if you do want a bit more structure (and to expand your network), our Emerging Leaders Accelerator includes a peer-to-peer mentoring component which can help you get started.