Jan 17, 2018

Mentoring Is a Two-Way Street, So Be Sure to Look Both Ways

Melissa Bizyak, CPABy Melissa A. Bizyak, CPA | Grossman, Yanak & Ford LLP

One of the most important and invaluable lessons I have learned is that mentoring is a two-way street. You may be asking what I mean by that statement. After all, in modern business practice, mentoring is generally seen as a more experienced person guiding a less experienced or less knowledgeable person. Every time I hear this definition of mentoring, I picture Yoda training Luke Skywalker to use the Force. In fact, the word is rooted in the work of Homer’s Odyssey, as it was the name of the person entrusted with the education of Odysseus’ son. Basically, it has been accepted as a one-way street: wisdom flowing down from the senior mentor to the mentee.

Mentor and mentee meetingThat’s really not how it should be.

I have been fortunate over my 23-year career to have successful, experienced, and balanced mentors who have helped shape me as a professional as well as my development as an individual. During the past decade I have taken on the role of mentor just as seriously and earnestly as those who have mentored me. And I have learned that mentoring is more of a two-party exchange than a one-direction distribution.

The following is what I believe to be the key ingredients in a successful mentoring relationship:

  • Be prepared – Let’s face it, both parties have great intentions for their mentoring relationships, but everyone is busy. Both the mentor and mentee should come prepared to each meeting or interaction to make it an efficient use of time. It is always good to have a brief conversation in advance of a meeting regarding potential topics of conversation.
  • Be patient – Just like the stock market, mentoring should be considered a long-term investment to achieve a decent return. It is critical that both the mentor and mentee are cognizant of the long-term nature of mentoring. This is an area where I have grown tremendously. As a young manager in a public accounting firm, I wanted to take the fast track to become partner. That translated to most of my professional relationships being transactional. The best thing that I did for myself was follow the lead of my third mentor (since my first two mentors were short-lived due to my initial approach to being a mentee) regarding patience. Being patient has resulted in life-changing outcomes for me.
  • Be a good listener – I know we hear it all the time, but when both the mentor and mentee get in the practice of actively listening to each other, the process becomes much more fruitful. I learned early on when I became a mentor that I needed to state upfront to my mentee that we both need to engage in active listening. Once both parties are aware of this aspect, they become more deliberate during their interactions.
  • Be open – In terms of dialogue, be thoughtful as well as open. Also, be open to the concept of learning from one another. I tell all of my mentees that I will learn just as much from them as they will from me.

The PICPA now offers Mentor Match to encourage you to cultivate one of these rewarding professional relationships. Join the PICPA Mentor Match online directory to find or become a mentor.

Melissa A. Bizyak, CPA is a partner in the business valuation and litigation support service group with Grossman, Yanak & Ford LLP in Pittsburgh. She was a 2017 PICPA Women to Watch Award recipient.

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