Mentoring in action: Mentoring as connecting

Allison McWilliams

Allison McWilliams

Allison McWilliams is assistant vice president, mentoring and alumni personal & career development. She writes occasional articles for Inside WFU. This is her last for the spring semester. In each, she shares observations and suggestions with faculty and staff from her professional experiences with students.

This spring I am exploring four distinct roles or strategies that mentors can put to use in their mentoring relationships, depending on the needs and the goals of their mentee: teaching, advising, providing wise counsel, and connecting. Great mentors always stay mentee-focused: keeping the mentee’s needs in front of them, and adjusting accordingly. And, great mentoring relationships are always about forward progress towards defined learning goals: mentoring happens in action.

In this post, I would like to look at one of the best, and actually one of the easiest roles that mentors perform for and with their mentee: that of the connector. Especially in this moment where we all perhaps feel a bit disconnected from one another, mentoring relationships – both virtual and in-person – can help to bridge this gap. Great connectors see the value in network-building, both for themselves and for others.

We used to think of mentoring as finding that one person who could be the be-all, end-all, supporter, champion, and developer. This is no longer an acceptable practice, for several important reasons. First, it limits the access to mentors and to opportunities. Only those seen as “high potential” or somehow “worthy” of mentoring receive it. Second, it limits the perspectives that any one mentee receives, which can lead to dangerous power imbalances and an insular way of viewing the world. And third, it unfairly burdens particular mentors with the work of mentoring, especially women and mentors of color. Today’s best practice of mentoring encourages all individuals to seek out broad, diverse networks of support which can guide, develop, and provide access to opportunities.

Effective mentors think about how they can connect their mentees to other people, to resources, and to opportunities which will serve their mentee’s goals. When your mentee presents you with a challenge or a need, ask yourself: Am I the person to help them to work through this, or can I connect them with someone else who is better suited to do that work? It’s not about passing the buck. It’s about being of value by broadening your mentee’s network and supporting the work that they want and need to do.