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/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/mentor_shirts_small_135939.jpgPicture courtesy by Martin Gillet

One of the questions the SAP Mentors get to hear a lot is “So, how does one become a SAP Mentor?” or more bluntly – from those who do not know better – “Where can I get such a shirt?

It’s a very valid question IF the person asking is interested in getting to know the process behind the selection of new additions to the tribe, yet if the person is asking because (s)he wants to become a SAP Mentor then things become more delicate. Because frankly speaking, if you want to be a SAP Mentor just to be in, then you are surely up for a bad start and driven by the wrong motivation. Chances are high you won’t ever make it.

In the past, I always answered such questions in a very polite way: encouraging the person to get active in the community first, to start working the forums and/or to organize local community events. I told them to watch what other SAP Mentors are doing and copy & adapt. And while doing all or some of the suggested things will certainly help, however there is no such thing as a secret sauce to it – and even if there would be, we would be well advised not to reveal it as otherwise people may be tempted to game the system.

So, with this article I would like to dig a bit deeper on the topic and share with you my personal understanding on what it takes to be a Mentor (and yes, I’ve omitted the SAP prefix on purpose!)

Interestingly, the answer is not far off, for me the essence of it can be found in the “Mentors’ Mentor” column of the SAP Mentors Quarterly. It’s by far the one recurring column I like the most as it clearly shows that most – if not all – of us have been introduced to the role of a Mentor(ette) by being a mentee first.

I believe that this is the key to the world of mentorship:

Mentorship is a personal developmental relationship in which a more experienced or more knowledgeable person helps to guide a less experienced or less knowledgeable person. However, true mentoring is more than just answering occasional questions or providing ad hoc help. It is about an ongoing relationship of learning, dialog, and challenge.”

Wikipedia: Mentorship

Such a mentoring relationship can begin in many ways. It may start with the formal question “Would you be willing to be my mentor?”, yet it may equally well just evolve in more subtle ways… over time.  Such a relationship may be as close and intimate as the bond between Danielson and Mr. Miyagi but it does not have to be. I tend to think that every mentorship starts in it’s own unique way as it’s a very personal experience after all, yet there are recurring patterns for sure. Whatever the case, it certainly takes two to make it a rewarding learning experience for both: mentor an mentee.

So, what does it take to be a great mentor?

In one sentence, I believe the role of a mentor is quite similar to the one of a parent or an elderly friend and the first and foremost thing a mentor should provide to his protégé(e) is “roots to grow and wings to fly.” That may sound a bit too cheesy for some; so let me share with you the dedication I wrote for my former manager – Hans Gerwing – whom I consider my first mentor in my professional life:

“Your style of management provided me with both the freedom necessary to go the extra mile (in order to strive for the maximum) as well as a solid master plan, guidance and safety net.”

Let’s break that up to make it a more clear.

I believe it is important that a mentor helps the mentee to step out of his/her comfort zone by providing both guidance and confidence in order to set the right atmosphere to learn new things – by doing them. The trust that the mentor is there (safe-) guiding one makes it (feel) less risky to explore new ways. Matter of fact – trust – is the key component of such a relationship: only because the mentee trusts in his mentor he is willing to truly listen, which brings us to the next important topic.

Another essential thing to do for a mentor is to provide constructive criticism, to show a mentee his blind spots and areas for improvement. It’s never easy to accept critique, but this exactly is what we have close friends and trusted mentors for. As we know they tell us the truth, because they are acting in best interest of our longtime development we can accept it more easily! No, you surely do not need a mentor to tell you about where you’re good at. (A little praise once in a while sure doesn’t hurt though!)

Last, but not least a mentor should be willing to openly share his/her knowledge and expertise with the mentee. That may sound trivial and obvious, but it sure is worth mentioning. Sadly, many people who could be great mentors are still stuck in the antique mindset that their knowledge/expertise is their most-treasured good, which they need to protect by all means as this is what comprises their value. Such thinking seems outdated in the 21st century, as given the pace of innovation cycles it’s no longer as important what you’ve learned in the past, but that you are willing to accept the fact that only continuous learning will allow you to stay up with this ever-changing world. It’s not what you learned, but that you learned how to keep learning.  Guess quoting paraphrasing Darwin was never more appropriate then it feels these days:

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but rather the one most adaptable to change.”

Talking about continuous learning brings us to the role of a mentee.

So, what does it take to be a good mentee?

Not surprisingly it’s very much related to what I wrote above. A good mentee should be willing to step out of his/her comfort zone, willing to accept criticism and willing to truly listen to the lessons of his/her mentor. Plus he should appreciate the mentor and the precious time spent together and … well, be eager to learn! That may sound trivial again, yet I think it’s that aspect that truly separates the regular student from the one(s) who will be chosen as mentee(s).

I recall a time, I had just been handed over a new project, when I sat down late at night and compiled a “recommended readings” list for the development team in order to prepare them for the road ahead. To my surprise I found out later, that only a few of them had taken the time to read (some) of it. The others “simply didn’t find the time.” And when there were challenging tasks to be done, again, only a handful stood up and took over. So, if you want to be mentored you better make sure the mentor sees that you’re up for it, that you’re ready to go the extra mile, that you’re eager to learn – or it may never happen…

To paraphrase something I wrote in an older blog post about coaching: Ultimately, every mentor looks out for his apprentices, the ones, to teach all he’s learned during his life-time in a nutshell – his/her successors.

Yes, great mentors are usually hard to find and their time is precious. Consequently, if you want to be mentored you have to “prove worthy” or why else would a mentor be interested in choosing you, investing in you?

Last words

Before we conclude, let me get back on something I feel very strongly about. I said a mentee should appreciate his mentor. What do I mean by that? Well, it’s a privilege for sure to find someone willing to mentor you.  I’ve come to believe that the best thing one could do to show his appreciation is to spread the word, share the learnings and crediting the source! By doing so, you keep the wheel spinning… you amplify your mentors outreach and by teaching others you can double-check if you have truly understood what your mentor wanted to teach you, because only if you can explain it to others you truly get to know whether you truly understand it yourself. And that’s the moment the line between being a mentee and being a mentor starts to blurry….

So, the next time someone approaches me asking how to become a (SAP) Mentor I know what I’ll say: “Find yourself a mentor first!” Guess, that’s the best advice I have!

PS: Fortunately, it is quite easy to learn from the SAP Mentors as they share their expertise actively and openly with everyone willing to listen: simply follow us on Twitter: @sapmentors

Note: This post has originally been published in the SAP Mentors Quarterly Q2/2012, a zine created by the SAP Mentors group for the community. I’d like to specifically thank Otto Gold and Tammy Powlas for all the hard work they put into this project and for all the dedication and passion with which they did lead the way and make it happen at all. Not to forget about Michelle Crapo who kicked it off with the four of us, but then had to (rightly) concentrate on other things… glad to see you’re back now!

It’s been a rewarding adventure for sure!

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23 Comments

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  1. Frank Koehntopp

    Hi Matthias,

    excellent post. Kinda mirrors my experience of first seeing the “blueshirts” (not to be confused with the recent John Scalzi novel) – proud to be a member of the pack now.

    Your last words are great advice – the will to learn from others you carry in high regard is a key factor to personal development.

    Frank.

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  2. Uwe Fetzer

    Excellent!

    A short story to add: a couple of weeks ago I explained my client what an SAP Mentor is, how to became one and what they do. An interesting question returns: “And who is the mentee? SAP?”

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    1. Gregory Misiorek

      Hi Uwe,

      i think mentees would be the rest of us, but SAP is there to fund and sponsor the initiative, kind of ubermentor, as they are obviously interested in successful and prolific initiatives that are not entirely planned. it is also a way to get the some of the early feedback on the new and existing products and to reward contributions.

      comprehensive and inspiring blog from Matthias, as usual.

      thx, greg

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      1. Matthias Steiner Post author

        Thanks for the kind feedback. Well, I think that’s the question to ask indeed!

        Well, the way I see it SAP is indeed the designated mentee of the SAP Mentors program and the SAP Mentors are supposed to be the spoke-persons of the community, customer, partners and even employees.

        But, as you said… one positive effect of the program is that anyone who wants to can actually follow the individual SAP Mentors.

        Personally, I’ve learned a ton from the people in the group simply by watching/reading/listening on what they do on a daily basis…

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  3. Kumud Singh

    Hi Matthias,

    As I have already commented in the quarterly blog by Tammy that the article is just awesome! Let me inform you that in my session at SIT India, last year, there was a direct question asked by one of the participants that how can he get a Mentor for himself which was answered by Somnath. Hmmm.. I think this blog should be read by all and get their answers. If I link it to myself I have been privileged to get different Mentors at different times and I would rate myself a good Mentee!!!! 😉 and would also agree with Jack Welch that it is not necessary to have one Mentor throughout the life. Perhaps, you could also share your personal experience of being a Mentor and also a Mentee! 🙂 Thanks.

    Regards,

    Kumud

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    1. Matthias Steiner Post author

      Hi Kumud,

      thanks for the kind words!

      Perhaps, you could also share your personal experience of being a Mentor and also a Mentee! 🙂

      Well, I thought I’m already doing this (e.g. with this blog) – any specifics you would like to know about?

      Cheers,

      Matthias

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      1. Kumud Singh

        Hi Matthias,

        While reading the blog, I correlated few aspects with myself and hence probably asked the same question to you. But now that you say you are already doing that and I remember, ‘Ramblings of an architect’ I am ok, no specifics required! 🙂 Thanks. I must say I am missing Michelle’s comments on this blog!

        Regards,

        Kumud

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  4. Custodio de Oliveira

    Hi Mathias,

    Great post! I read this on the Mentors Quarterly and loved it. I couldn’t find the “Mentor’s Mentor” blog/article though.

    I have worked in one companies that promoted some sort of “compulsory mentorship”. You were assigned one mentor and zero or more mentees, depending on your experience. I don’t need to say it failed, do I? First step for a good mentorship is the will from both sides to make it happen. I totally hated my assigned mentor, and as much as I loved my mentees I am not sure they liked me back (at east one of them).

    Cheers,

    Custodio

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    1. Matthias Steiner Post author

      Hi Custodio,

      I read this on the Mentors Quarterly and loved it. I couldn’t find the “Mentor’s Mentor” blog/article though.

      Hm, this time my article was taking that up the slot for “Mentor’s Mentor” in a way, but please check out the other episodes to get further examples: SAP Mentors Quarterly Archive

      Thanks for sharing your experiences with a “compulsory mentorship” model that was pushed through from the top. Not surprised to hear it didn’t work out for most… there’s a strong relationship aspect to mentorship and as such it cannot be (en-)forced, but needs to evolve naturally…

      Cheers,

      Matthias

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  5. Fred Verheul

    Hi Mathias,

    Another great post! You must have good ‘writing genes’.

    I find it remarkable that you connect the sap_mentor ‘silver bullet’ question to the general notion of mentorship (despite the obvious link being the word ‘mentor’):

    I usually don’t think of the SAP Mentors (at least those I know) as being mentor in the sense of mentoring a mentee (person to person). I see them more as general role models in the SCN community, and as such there’s a lot to learn from each of them IMO (still working on it 🙂 ).

    But I will admit you got me thinking again about the general mentor/mentee notion and relationship. I’ve never really felt the need for a personal mentor (though I always appreciate any feedback I can get), nor do I see myself as a mentor. The thing I like most (and which got me thinking again) is the time you get to spend on reflection, and it certainly helps me to do that together with someone (preferably at the coffee machine 🙂 ).

    Will ponder on it some more…

    Cheers, Fred

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    1. Matthias Steiner Post author

      Well, it sure is a slightly different type of mentorship as the group is quite diverse and the people are located around the world. Consequently the type of mentorship the group provides is a bit more abstract than a very personal mentorship.

      Still, I think the main characteristics of what it takes to be a good mentor/mentee do apply.

      I’ve never really felt the need for a personal mentor (though I always appreciate any feedback I can get), nor do I see myself as a mentor.

                         

      Well, that’s an interesting aspect of it. Again, it depends on your environment, your role and your personality. See, for me a few years back I was just a tech-savvy developer with a passion for good architecture and no interest in intra-company politics, marketing etc… . I wasn’t looking out for a Mentor nor did I spend much time thinking about the other sides of the business (“who don’t have a clue about software development!“)

      But then we got a new manager and we learned quite a lot from hin and suddenly a door opened up and revealed the bigger picture…

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      1. Kumud Singh

        Couldn’t resist adding my comments here. At times, we don’t realize that we do have a Mentor. I don’t think we can get a Mentor by rigorously searching for a Mentor. A Mentor can be a good friend as well. Also, my personal experience says a good Mentee always finds an extraordinary good Mentor without looking for one. It just happens time to time. Hmmm..just my insights direct from my mind! 🙂

        Regards,

        Kumud

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  6. Matt Harding

    Great article Matthias. We all know there’s no one answer to this; but leveraging what you say, (IMO) if we just focus on what a mentor is, and consider for SAP Mentors, that our mentee’s are SAP plus people who engage with us one on one via any channel; then that at least goes someway towards getting there.

    Of course, there’s more to it, but I believe it is the engagement with community members (not just online) and SAP that make many of us mentors and not just educators or influencers. For example, for me; quite a few of the SAP Mentors (& other community members) would partially be mentors for me (they know who they are) because they engage either on the phone, through forums, blogs or simply once a year at a conference where they guide you on your way – constantly pushing you out of your comfort zone! Anyway, rambling now and it’s late…Keep it up!

    See you at TechEd,

    Matt

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    1. Matthias Steiner Post author

                             

      For example, for me; quite a few of the SAP Mentors (& other community members) would partially be mentors for me (they know who they are) because they engage either on the phone, through forums, blogs or simply once a year at a conference where they guide you on your way – constantly pushing you out of your comfort zone!

      +1

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  7. Jansi Rani Murugesan

    Hi,

    Great insight about the mentors!!!!  I understood why you didnt added the SAP prefix 🙂 . Long back even I directly asked to Mark, the same how could some one become SAP mentor.

    Later on I redirected to some of blogs to understand all about mentor program,

    But now after all, the single line in your blog answered everything,

    So, the next time someone approaches me asking how to become a (SAP) Mentor I know what I’ll say: “Find yourself a mentor first!” Guess, that’s the best advice I have!

    I truly accept , being a good mentee would leads your path automatically to next level, it is not only for SAP, it is true for any level at your career……

    While one of the organisation I worked, also promoted this about Mentor , Mentee, and also importance of finding the mentor . It went good, but the risk is you should find the right mentor on the right area of expertise where you really wanted to grow, As Kumud said this is continous journey.. need to learn from more than one…….

    As fred said SAP Mentors is quite different, they are role model for the entire community and they had more role than the general mentor do, (as i absoreved).  for me , SAP Mentors are always inspirational………… They are always having some thing to share.. Thanks a lot for all of them too………..

    Thanks again for sharing  🙂 .

    Regards,

    Jansi

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    1. Matthias Steiner Post author

      It went good, but the risk is you should find the right mentor on the right area of expertise where you really wanted to grow, As Kumud said this is continuous journey. Need to learn from more than one…….

                         

      So true…

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  8. Michelle Crapo

    Hi Matthias,

    Excellent blog.   Probably one that I should write as well – from my point of view.   What is a mentor?  How do you become a mentor?

    AND – what is the benefits of being a mentor?

    Benefits – there are so many.   But, I think the biggest benefit is by learning from the questions we get!   It’s an amazing thing.  I love to not know the answer.  Then I have to take the time to research.  It’s also a great thing when someone disagrees with my answer.   The debate – oh such fun – the debate that happens after that.   Then I really get to learn.

    A mentor… a mentor is always learning.

    Great post I can relate to getting lists together and finding out that no one has read the material.   Discouraging to say the least.   Now you know for a fact that people are reading this blog.  😉

     

    Michelle

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  9. Tomas Krojzl

    Hello Matthias,

    perfect blog – I would just comment on point below:

    Sadly, many people who could be great mentors are still stuck in the antique mindset that their knowledge/expertise is their most-treasured good, which they need to protect by all means as this is what comprises their value.

    My opinion I am sharing whenever I am meeting person with this kind of mindset (maybe someone will find it useful – it looks obvious – but apparently not to everyone):

    This position is usually based on belief that person is valuable  because of his/her skill. To certain degree this is true – but what is many more times valuable then person having “rare skill” is person with ability to “create new rare skills” and ability to “generate other colleagues having rare skills” (these two perks can be nicely combined).

    Being the only one person having “rare skill” is usually not advantage but big disadvantage – this is best way how to chain yourself to single activity or position because there is nobody else to do it. It can be seen as biggest inhibitor to career as it is practically stopping you to move forward (and learn new things). Eventually your skills will be outdated and you will become abundant.

    Much better strategy is to learn something new – teach others – hand them over your work – step back into position of mentor/leader/advisor – move forward and explore something new (more complex work)…

    Such person is constantly adapting and learning new skills and is seen as much more valuable. This approach is maybe not that comfortable as you still need to actively learn new things – but definitely more rewarding.

    Tomas

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    1. Matthias Steiner Post author

      Hi Thomas,

      thanks for bringing this topic up as it was clearly missing in my blog. Couldn’t agree more and so I’m happy you pointed it out!

      Cheers,

      Matthias

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  10. Mark Finnern

    Hi Matthias and all that commented,

    It was super interesting to read this post and all the comments about SAP Mentors. I thought long about what this group of top community influencer that we wanted to create a special program around should be called.

    There was the Microsoft example of MVPs as well as the Oracle Aces. Both of them making the individual the star. As this blog illustrates, the term mentor brings with it the acknowledgement that the community member is an expert, but also that the focus is on sharing that expert knowledge with the community.

     

    Very much love that.

    Yes the mentee is all of us whoever is willing to listen and learn. Many at SAP are tuning into that SAP Mentor expertise, one indicator are the 14 mentor sessions held at this year’s DKOMs.

    All the best, Mark.

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    1. Matthias Steiner Post author

      Great to see you chime in Mark and share the background of the name and the reasoning behind it.

      Many at SAP are tuning into that SAP Mentor expertise, one indicator are the 14 mentor sessions held at this year’s DKOMs.

                         

      That’s an interesting number for sure, yet I think the biggest impact are those countless everyday social interactions within the community, which you cannot put into numbers…

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