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April 10, 2018

Making the Most Out of Mentorship

Cathy Knupp

Dr. Cathy Knupp recently received the Feather in Her Cap Award for her leadership and contributions to the animal health industry. In addition to applauding her many contributions to innovation and science, she was also recognized for the transformational role she has played as a mentor – helping colleagues advance their careers and reach their goals.

I’ve had the great opportunity to work with many inspiring and influential colleagues and leaders over the years. These relationships always helped me reflect on different professional styles and create my own unique approach, rooted in the qualities I’ve come to admire in others. Core to my own style has always been a passion for listening, spending time in one-on-one interactions, and providing insightful feedback to my colleagues.

These are a few of the reasons that I became a founding member of the Zoetis Midwest Women’s Mentoring Network when it started in 2010. I’ve had the privilege of being part of many mentorships over the past eight years, and I’ve learned that successful mentoring relationships – like any relationship – take effort and dedication from both sides to thrive.

Great Mentorships Start with Building Trust

Mentorships often bring together two people who have had limited interactions with each other in the past, or have worked together in a much different capacity than the personal nature of a mentoring relationship. As a first step, it’s very important for mentees and mentors to take time to get to know one another and find common ground by exploring mutual interests and creating bridges that bring them together. This is a great way to start to build trust, which is the foundation of a good mentorship.

In line with building trust is also the need to reinforce confidentiality, especially when the mentoring relationship involves colleagues in the same company. To cultivate an environment where open and candid dialogue can flow freely, both the mentor and mentee must have confidence in each other to keep what is said confidential.

Great Mentors Are Guides

When a colleague seeks my advice as a mentor, I want to understand what they are seeking.  Are they looking for a sounding board, quick advice, someone to share an experience with? That insight has a big impact on what happens next.

I like to think of the role of the mentor as a guide—someone who leads the mentee along to their own conclusions. Beyond serving as a guide for my mentees, a few skills have been critical to developing in my role as a mentor:

  • Active listening: I’ve learned that one of the most important ways to build rapport and trust with a mentee is to be fully present during mentorship meetings. This requires full concentration on what is being shared in the meeting and the ability to synthesize the information and formulate a helpful response or purposeful follow-up question. 

  • Adapting: Each mentee has different goals and expectations for what they want to accomplish through mentorship. It’s important to understand each relationship uniquely and adapt your approach based on their goals.

  • Understanding: In the beginning, mentees often aren’t completely direct in asking questions or sharing their goals. Mentors often have to uncover the essence of what the mentee is trying to say through questions and clarifying statements. 

  • Honesty: The final skill that is critically important for mentors to possess is the ability to provide constructive feedback through honesty. Sometimes that means helping a mentee see where they may have misinterpreted a situation or where their goals may not be realistic. If the relationship is built on trust, mentees will appreciate the candid perspective. 

Great Mentees Are Motivated 

The mentorships I’ve seen as the most successful have been driven by a highly motivated mentee – someone who is fully ready to explore a particular issue or topic with a mentor. A few pieces of advice I have for individuals who are thinking about becoming mentees include:

  • Be ready: Only you can decide if and when you are ready to embark on a mentoring relationship. You shouldn’t agree to be a mentee if you aren’t clear on what you want to accomplish, or because someone else tells you it’s what you should do. 

  • Be prepared: When entering a new mentoring relationship, you should know what you want to get out of the relationship and be able to articulate it to your mentor. 

The Benefits of Mentorship

When carried out successfully, mentorships can be an incredibly rewarding experience for both mentors and mentees. As a mentor, it’s very fulfilling to see a colleague accomplish a goal or get through a personal challenge and know that you had a role in helping them prevail.

Mentorships can come out of a company’s formal mentoring program like the Zoetis Midwest Mentoring Program, or through a more informal arrangement made by reaching out to a professional contact to ask for support with a specific topic.

I’m proud to work for Zoetis, an organization made up of colleagues who are not only enthusiastic about their careers, but who also deeply demonstrate our Core Belief of One Zoetis – always willing and eager to help their colleagues succeed through formal and informal mentorship every day.

For more leadership & career advice from Cathy Knupp, read a recent blog post on LinkedIn by Stephanie Armstrong, Business Unit Director, Companion Animal and Equine, Zoetis Australia.

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