Be a Mentor
Everyone needs a mentor, someone to “show them the ropes” and help them to gain the valuable skills that come with experience. I’ve had many mentors throughout my career, most of them probably didn’t know they were mentoring me at the time, but their influence on me was strong and I’m a better person for it.
Who are your mentors? Who are the people that have most influenced your life, personally and professionally? I’ve been fortunate to have many mentors during my career. Almost all of those have been informal relationships. The person didn’t realize the influence they had on me but I’m a better person for knowing them. I would have to say that my biggest influence was my uncle who taught me that if you work hard, anything is possible. Second would be a co-worker, Bud, who taught me that any problem can be solved with a bit of ingenuity, creativity, and a healthy dose of “what if.” Another influencer would be Shannon, a young woman I worked with a few years ago. I was supposed to be teaching and mentoring her but in reality she taught me about honesty, integrity, and hard work. Believe me when I say that no matter how much you think you know, learning is a continuous process.
Now, it’s your turn. Time to give something back and help someone you know to grow and succeed; it’s time for you to start mentoring someone and “play it forward” by giving them the wisdom of your years and experience.
There are no hard and fast rules to mentoring. There are no special skills required. All you need is a willingness to share your experience – share yourself – and provide insight of your experience and expertise. Here are just a few qualities of an effective mentor:
Willingness to Share
I worked with a guy years ago who was a master woodworker. He could do things with wood and use the various tools in the wood shop to create some amazing things. I was young and quite inexperienced, so I ask him to show me how to do the things he was doing. Without hesitation he said “No.” When I asked why, he said “It took me 17 years to learn how to do this and I’m not about to give that knowledge away.”
The funny thing about knowledge: if you share your knowledge with someone else it doesn’t diminish YOUR knowledge at all. Quite the contrary; you’ve actually multiplied that knowledge and everyone wins. Why be selfish? Share what you know, share what you’ve learned, and talk about the wins and the losses. People can learn from your mistakes as readily as they can from your successes. Most of all share your time. Too often we’re in such a rush to get from point A to point B that we forget to spend time with people.
Willingness to Listen
Listening is one of those skills we take for granted. We’re often so busy thinking about what we want to say next that we don’t pay attention to what the other person is saying to us. There’s a great quote from the Dalai Lama: “When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know. But if you listen, you may learn something new.” Take time to listen to your employees, peers, colleagues, and co-workers. Show them that they are safe in your company, that they can confide in you and trust that their insecurities and “stupid questions” will not be shared or used against them. Remember, the mentoring relationship works both ways; you will learn as much as your mentee if you keep an open mind and listen.
Willingness to Guide
Guidance is not the same as telling or teaching. Guiding someone is that subtle nudge, the thought provoking question that gets someone to examine their current situation and ponder their next move. Guidance is the truest sense of leadership; it’s done gently with the other person’s wellbeing in mind. As a mentor you can guide someone to look at other options, guide someone to select a different path, or guide someone to a door that you’ve opened for them. Guidance isn’t pushing or dragging or forcing. Sometimes the best idea you can give someone is the one they think they came up with on their own.
Willingness to Set the Example
If you ask people about their mentors they will often relay stories about people they watched from afar; people they observed but never really interacted with. That’s the power of influence and leading by example. You can have an impact – positive or negative – through your actions and interactions with other people. Set a clear example for honesty, integrity, and hard work and your mentee will begin to emulate you. Even if the mentorship is not a formal arrangement you can still influence those around you simply through your actions.
Consider being a mentor. Sharing your experience and insight with someone and then watching them grow and succeed is intensely gratifying. And you’ll learn and expand your knowledge along the way. So whether someone reaches out to you asking for a formal mentor arrangement or whether you see someone struggling in their career and just offer some friendly advice, take the time to share. Invest in someone else and you’ll both reap the rewards.