Helping Others and Yourself Grow through Mentoring

Considering the state of the economy these days, one might assume that people are happy just to have a job. Mentoring may seem like a luxury that you or your organization can’t afford. You may be thinking: Who has time to mentor? Everybody is doing more with less…we just can’t spare time for mentoring.

If you think mentoring is expensive, consider the cost of not mentoring: Does a football team win a championship without a group of coaches and assistant coaches continually working with players? Does an athlete achieve greatness without being mentored by superb trainers? Does an accomplished actor or actress win awards without learning from directors, voice coaches, acting teachers, dialect coaches, and others?

If you want to achieve your fullest career potential, the best thing you can do is find a mentor to work with. If you want your organization to achieve greatness, make sure that everyone gets involved with mentoring in some way. And, you might be surprised at how much the mentors learn as well. It’s a well-known fact that the best way to learn something is to teach it to others. When you mentor, you grow and learn.

What is Mentoring?

Mentoring is a relationship between two people with the goal of professional and personal development. The “mentor” is usually an experienced individual who shares knowledge, experience and advice with a less experienced person, or “mentee.”

Mentors become trusted advisers and role models – people who have “been there” and “done that.” They support and encourage their mentees by offering suggestions and knowledge, both general and specific. The goal is to help mentees improve their skills and, hopefully, advance their careers.

Mentoring is a great way to serve your people … and yourself. As team members develop in knowledge and skills, their performance naturally improves. When that happens, everyone wins. And you’ll find that YOU grow by mentoring, as well. As you reflect on your life experiences and distil them into nuggets to share with others, you “re-experience” the wisdom that’s inside of you. What’s wrong with that picture? NOTHING!

What are the Benefits of Mentoring?

Mentoring can be rewarding for you, both personally and professionally. Through it, not only can you build a stronger and more successful team, but you can also improve your leadership and communication skills, learn new perspectives and ways of thinking, and gain a strong sense of personal satisfaction.

For potential mentees, the benefits of mentoring can be huge. They get focused coaching and training from a skilled, knowledgeable and experienced individual, and they also get assistance and advice in navigating the many tricky situations that can arise in the workplace. This can help them work more effectively, overcome obstacles, and break through blockages that would otherwise slow or stall their careers.

So, consider adding mentoring to your leadership strategies. And as you do, keep the following in mind:

  •  All mentoring relationships need to focus on the people being mentored. Remember that it’s not about you – it’s about them. Accept them for who they are. Help them advance at their own place.
  •  Avoid treating people you are mentoring as incompetent or incapable. Rather, think of them as individuals lacking in experience … valuable team members who need guidance. And don’t forget where YOU came from. Earlier in your career, you didn’t know what you know now. Why should they?
  • Don’t criticize or belittle. Instead, help “mentees” think through the consequences of their behaviour and to identify more positive ways of handling difficult or troubling situations. And, by all means, hold the people you are mentoring responsible for their success. Be willing to give of yourself and your time, but insist that they do the same.

But even if you understand the benefits of mentoring and it sounds like a great idea, you have to decide whether this sort of time-consuming, in-depth relationship is right for you and for the person you’re thinking of mentoring. If the mentoring relationship has arisen informally and spontaneously, then the chances are that things are fine. However, if you’re taking a more formal approach to mentoring, it’s worth exploring your reasons for mentoring and asking yourself whether you want to take this type of commitment further. To do so, ask yourself these questions:

  • Is mentoring the best way of developing the knowledge, skills and attitudes the potential mentee needs? Or would other approaches be quicker or more effective?
  • How will mentoring contribute toward your own career goals, and to the goals of your team and your organization?
  • Is mentoring a particular individual a good use of your time? And are you comfortable that you’ll be able to devote time to him or her on a regular basis?
  • Do you have knowledge, skills and experience that the mentee is likely to find helpful?
  • How much personal satisfaction are you likely to get from the relationship? Does this justify your involvement? And do you like the individual enough to want to invest time in mentoring him or her on a regular basis?
  • In what areas are you willing to help? Are there any areas that you don’t want to go near?

What You Should Consider?

Although you may want to jump right in with both feet, make sure that you also think about these practical considerations:

  • Formality of approach – Do you want to take a relaxed, ad hoc approach to mentoring, or do you want to approach sessions in a more structured, formal way?
  • Frequency of contact– How much time can you commit to this relationship?
    • Can you meet (however you do that) weekly? Biweekly? Once a month?
    • How long can you spend in each meeting? Half an hour? An hour? More?
    • Do you want to be available between “formal” sessions?
  • Method of contact – Would you prefer face-to-face meetings, phone calls, or emails? If you were to use phone calls, who places the call?
  • Duration of partnership – Do you want to limit the length of the mentoring partnership? Do you want to set regular intervals to review whether you’re both happy with the relationship, or do you just want to informally review progress on an ongoing basis?
  • Confidentiality – How will you approach confidential business information? Think of ways to speak about general concepts and situations while maintaining confidentiality.

Where to Draw the Line?

When developing a mentoring relationship, make sure you have clear boundaries of what you can and cannot do for the mentee.

Answer the above questions to help yourself define the boundaries for the relationship. Then, when you’re meeting, you’ll better understand your own mindset – what areas you’re interested in covering, and what you will and will not do. Take the lead on where you’ll allow the mentoring relationship to go and what ground you’ll cover. As a general guide, focus on your expertise and experience. If anything is beyond your skills and abilities, refer the mentee to another expert. For example, if a discussion about human resources issues raises a concern about employment law, consider sending your mentee to an internal expert or attorney. If conversations about work problems lead into personal or family problems, the mentee may need more focused professional help from a psychologist or therapist.

As a mentor, you can become the mentee’s confidante and adviser. You may be called upon to be a “sounding board” for all sorts of issues and concerns. So know in advance how you’re going to deal with difficult situations.

By mentoring effectively, you can do a lot to improve the performance of key individuals within your team, thereby helping yourself reach team and organizational goals. Mentoring can also give you a great overall sense of personal satisfaction, knowing that you’re helping someone else learn and grow on a professional and personal level.

Before you begin a mentoring partnership, it’s useful to think about your reasons for becoming a mentor and the practical considerations and logistics of such a relationship. If you decide that mentoring is right for you, the time and effort that you put into it can reap great rewards that far exceed your expectations.

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