When people think about mentoring in a business context, they tend to see it as a means to an end: Prepare a successor to do what you do, or as you do, or to do something similar in a different context.
It’s easy to get bogged down by the details, get distracted by KPIs, or to teach only what you think is really important. How many mentors talk about how truly rewarding and valuable an exercise mentoring is, though?
The truth is, when you’re identified as a mentor you’re influencing your mentee (or mentees) in myriad ways across a broad contextual spectrum. Let’s assume you are assigned a mentee because of your expertise in subject x. Sure, you are absolutely going to impart pearls of wisdom in that particular focus area, but think about how else you influence that person too:
- Do you stick to commitments? Do you show up when you need to, and do you keep your word regarding sharing resources, information, and contacts? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: you are only as good as your word.
- What kind of overall impression do you make? If you’re all about ticking boxes and aren’t really about building a supportive relationship, people are going to notice. They also notice things you might not expect, or intend them to:
- Is she a workaholic?
- Does he spend most of his time publicly berating his colleagues?
- Does she ever say anything good, or uncritical, about anyone?
When you’re in a position where you are sharing knowledge, you’re going to be sharing knowledge – to the detriment, or for the betterment, of others. Set a good example in all facets: Minds are impressionable, and memories are long.
- Do you understand the difference between ‘help’ and ‘support’? ‘Support’ offers encouragement, empowerment, and fosters growth – of individuals and relationships. It’s the icing on the cake. ‘Help’, on the other hand, places the person offering it firmly in centre stage – they want to control the baking of the cake and measure out all the ingredients themselves – they believe that they’re the only person who can complete the process correctly. I erased ‘help’ from my vocabulary years ago, and now only use it in very specific contexts. I choose to use ‘support’ in all my dealings with people.
Essentially, to be a mentor you need to remember the following rules of thumb:
- Allow your mentee to have a voice, listen to their concerns, goals, and let them tell you what they need.
- Be open to new ideas. Is one approach you’ve used before not working? Be flexible and adaptable enough to improvise. Everyone learns and understands things differently, after all.
- Let your mentees take responsibility for themselves. This is the real balancing act. Pull your weight as a mentor, but make your mentee accountable for their actions and decisions too.
- Recognise, and admit, that you don’t know everything. You’re a subject expert in x, but your colleague is an expert in y. Your mentee needs to understand both processes/subject areas, so bring in the expert. Admitting to your knowledge gaps shows you’re human and makes you more respected, not less. You’re also demonstrating that you are truly invested in seeing someone else succeed.
Few things are more rewarding than seeing someone else flourish. See for yourself just how powerful mentoring is – I’m sure the process will surprise you, and teach you much more than you bargained for. Want to learn more about effective mentoring techniques for you or your organisation? Or do you need a mentor? Contact me.