A mentor can be one of the greatest resources for people looking to advance their careers. A mentorship usually involves identifying a more experienced professional in your company or industry and asking that person to impart wisdom that will help you navigate your own career.
A "student-teacher" dynamic is the most common type of mentoring relationship, and it's an incredibly helpful one. Learning from the experiences and mistakes of someone who has been there before can provide you with insights you might never have gained on your own. However, an alternative model — one that could be even more beneficial — is peer mentoring, in which the mentor and mentee roles are less rigidly defined.
"In a peer-mentoring relationship, each person involved can be both teacher and student, and both parties are empowered to shape their learning context," said Virginia Fraser, U.S. marketing manager at Insights Learning & Development. "Professionals receive the support they need from a peer, while getting the perspective from a mentor."
While your peer mentor doesn't necessarily have to be at your exact job level, there is a distinct advantage to mentoring and being mentored by a person who has roughly the same amount of experience you have, said Sarah Callaghan, U.K. marketing manager at Insights.
"You face similar challenges in terms of the work at hand, office politics and ... reporting lines," Callaghan told Business News Daily. "Your peer mentor truly understands your strains and obstacles, and can help you face them in a positive and productive way."
Fraser said that peer mentorships develop organically from trust-based professional workplace relationships. This trust creates an open environment where colleagues feel comfortable offering feedback to one another about behavior, attitude or performance. In turn, recipients of this feedback are more likely to be open to their peers' advice because they know the other person genuinely wants to see them succeed. When this occurs, Fraser noted that teams can establish a system of interpersonal checks and balances that isn't dependent on the group leader.
If you want to start benefiting from a peer mentorship, the first step is to find the right teammate. When you're looking for a peer mentor, consider someone who has a shared work experience but can offer a unique perspective on the everyday and long-term challenges you face, Fraser recommended. [Need a Mentor? Here's How to Ask]
"Often, it's helpful to find someone who has a very distinctive background and view ... to offer an increased level of exposure to diversity of thought," Fraser said.
Another quality to look for in a peer mentor is honesty. You and your mentor should both trust each other and feel comfortable being candid, Callaghan said. It's also important that both of you have similar career goals.
"Peer mentorship needs to have a foundation of trust, respect and similar objectives," Callaghan said. "Use those commonalities as a way to introduce the concept of peer mentorship as a mutually beneficial activity."
Once you've established a peer-mentoring relationship with someone, follow these basic guidelines offered by Fraser and Callaghan to help both of you make the most of the mentorship:
- Form a mutual commitment to both giving and receiving feedback.
- Establish a mutual respect of each other's expertise and experience.
- Start a frequency of communication and preferred way to communicate.
- Look for opportunities for dialogue as they arise — any conversation can be an opportunity to mentor each other.
- Create ground rules regarding confidentiality and any off-limits topics.
Managers can work to create an environment that encourages peer mentorships by setting a positive example for their employees.
"Managers who build their team's foundation on authenticity and trust will enable mentorships between peers and teammates to form naturally," Fraser said. "When colleagues trust one another, they feel comfortable to be authentic about their strengths, weaknesses, successes and challenges."