Take a minute. Can you remember your first mentor? What made your remember them? More than likely they made a lasting difference in your life.
Looking back, I am grateful to have had so many people mentor me. There was Renee that worked for a congressman who told me that if I wanted to get involved in community work I needed to develop the hindquarters (she used another word) of a turtle because I better get used to be kicked around a bit. She also taught me that today’s enemy might be tomorrow’s ally.
New York State Senator Donald Haplerin was a great mentor. He had a vision for what he wanted for young people in his district. He wanted to work with all youth, not just the good ones, but the ones that were struggling. That wasn’t a popular position for an elected official. One of his interview questions to me was, “I want you to work with kids that others might not like, can you do that?”
He was a constant source of support. He made himself available. He advocated for both me and the group. He was brave and conscientious enough to give both positive and negative feedback. He taught me how to accept both and move forward. As a result of his mentoring, his vision prospered. He attracted other people to his cause via his passion, his influence and his talents. He made a difference in my life. That is what a mentor can do!
What is mentoring?
Mentoring is a learning and development relationship between two people in which one who is more experienced and knowledgeable helps to guide the other. It involves communication and relationship building. Some of the basic issues the mentor and the mentee agree on include:
- Committing time to the relationship
- Meeting times
- Goals and objectives
- How they will communicate and how often
So, why should leaders mentor?
Here are some reasons why it pays to mentor:
- Passing on your experience and knowledge—paying it forward for the people that helped you—
- Setting an example
- Ensuring a legacy for your vision and philosophy
- Satisfaction at knowing you contributed and made a difference in someone’s life
- Helps you hone your skills as you focus on how to help someone else. Makes you focus on specifics or actions that might have become second nature over the years, or fallen into disuse
- Generate new ideas as a result of the mentoring relationship
- Improves your relationship building skills –connecting you to the younger generation of workers
Choosing the relationship?
You have decided you want to be a mentor. There are several people that have asked you and you are considering. Here are some questions for reflection that will help you make a good decision on whom you should mentor.
- Do you have a sincere interest in helping this person succeed?
- Is there mutual interest and compatibility?
- Do you both share the same understanding of the mentor relationship?
- Do you have a clear understanding of your role?
- Are you the right person to help this person achieve their goals?
- Are you feeling enthusiastic about being a mentor and helping this person?
- Are you willing to use your network of contact to help this individual? Do you have an active network you can access?
- Do you have the time to help this person and are you willing to commit that time?
- Do you have the support you need to be able to engage in a mentoring relationship in a meaningful way?
- Are you committed to developing your own mentoring skills?
How do you know if you are ready to be a mentor?
Mentoring is not something that should be taken lightly or entered into lightly. If someone has approached you to be their mentor, take some to reflect on why you should say, “Yes.” Complete the following sentences to help you decide on your answer.
- I want to be a mentor because…
- I want to participate in this mentoring relationship because…
- My experience and expertise will contribute to this relationship by…
- Specific things I can and am willing to do to help my protégé are…
- Therefore, I will…
Mentoring is an intense relationship which calls for a serious commitment by both the mentor and the mentee. There are benefits. The relationship can provide both people with a greater clarity on life and career choices. It provides new insights and perspective into the culture and organization of the group; exposure to different perspectives and cultural values; greater career satisfaction; the opportunity to develop new networks; access to new resources; and an increase opportunity for success in areas that are not addressed by traditional professional development or on the job experience. Mentoring makes a difference.