In one of his interviews, Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft Corporation, and the second richest person in the world, credits part of his success to his mentor Warren Buffett.
He says Buffet, the CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, taught him how to handle tough situations, and how to make long-term plans.
Away from business, popular American TV producer Oprah Winfrey had a mentor, and so did Nelson Mandela, the former president of South Africa. If this is anything to go by, it is foolhardy to downplay the role of mentors in our lives. One of the best ways to navigate a difficult stage of life — from starting a new career to navigating high school or college, is to find a mentor.
There is a long-standing belief that a mentor must be someone older than you. And for many years, mentorship was about a teacher interacting with a student. The mentee always depended on the mentor for knowledge and advice.
In the olden days, many believed that finding a mentor was difficult. And even after identifying one, approaching them was another laborious pursuit altogether.
While is it important to learn from someone who has a good number of years of experience in your field, you can also learn a lot from your colleagues and peers.
Look around you. At work, home or even in school, there must be a young person that you look up to and wish that you could learn from them, and whom you could teach a thing or two. This is what peer mentorship is about. It is where two individuals of the same age, status, or ability come together because each has something valuable to teach and learn from one another.
Most learning institutions have peer counsellors, that is, students who are trained to offer counselling sessions to their fellow students.
At the workplaces, peer mentorship could be a symbiotic arrangement where individuals who have different strengths and abilities are paired so that they can learn from and empower each other.
While you can have a peer mentor from a different career background, it is recommended to identify one in your field, since they will understand the challenges and the aspects of your job better. If you are in school, you can choose a peer mentor who is in the same faculty or department.
Some of the benefits you can gain from peer mentorship include:
Because this type of mentorship is symbiotic, you will be sharing your knowledge and expertise, and at the same time benefiting from what the other person has to offer. To ensure that you get the best out of the arrangement, it is important that you have a clear vision of the objectives you wish to achieve. That way you will be able to tell whether or not you are learning anything from your mentor.
Improved social skills
Charles Murage, 25, confesses that he got his first mentor one year ago. The mentor, who is an entrepreneur just like Charles, is one year older than him. “There are many senior business people that I wished to learn from. However, I did not have the courage to approach them for mentorship. Having a peer mentor, who happens to be an extrovert, has taught me so many valuable social skills.”
To have another person learn from you, or knowing that someone looks up to you for advice has its benefits. It can reinforce your self-confidence because it is a reminder that you are capable of delivering on key tasks.
Being a peer mentor can help you sharpen your leadership skills. Through it, you can acquire skills that are necessary for leadership, such giving constructive feedback, coming up with sound problem solving mechanisms, good decision making, and communicating in a clear and concise way.
Getting the most from it
It is not enough to be a peer mentor or to have one. You have to ensure that you get the best out of that relationship. This you can do by ensuring that:
The right teammate
Before you choose a peer mentor or mentee, check and confirm that they have the necessary experience and exposure, are willing to learn, and are honest, trustworthy and respectful. An individual’s character is of paramount importance.
To get the most out of peer mentorship, both of you need to have a discussion about the things you seek to learn from the other. Identify your common goals, agree on a way to attain them cadence, and set boundaries to avoid getting into conflict with each other.
Ask for guidance
Do not be afraid to spend more time with your mentor, or to ask for clarifications on things you find complex.
The ultimate goal of peer mentorship is to ensure that you get the most out of it, and you can only do that by being proactive and asking for proper guidance.