Here are a few more limiting thoughts that might be getting in the way of you becoming a mentor.
What I know is not of use to anyone but me.
Maybe you think so and maybe you’ve even been told this. It’s a shame to presuppose the worthless value of your knowledge and experience without offering it to someone else. Think about the times when you’ve done something that you’ve felt was no big deal and someone else has shown interest or delight. If you are feeling bored or cynical at work, try showcasing your everyday experiences to someone with fresh eyes. Let your mentee take the lead and invite them to ask you questions. Just offer up what you know and what you’ve learned, and be open to how others can appreciate it anew. It is inspiring to watch someone else’s positive delight in something you have been taking for granted.
You need to be an expert to mentor
The funny thing about this myth is, often experts make the worst mentors! That’s because they think there is only one way (their right way) to do something. That’s not mentoring, it’s instructing and directing. Of course you might also be a teacher or official trainer – another good way to add value. Mentors bring value because of their workplace experience, as much as through technical expertise. As a mentor, you want to help the other person frame their thinking and consider the organizational impacts of their actions and decisions. You want to ask open-ended learning questions. You want to boost confidence by pointing out to them how much they already know. The best mentors skirt the inevitable requests to “tell me how you did it” because they know that what worked for them isn’t necessarily going to work for others. Instead, they share strategies, tools and approaches that can be used, customized or discarded, by their mentee.
I don’t know how to be a mentor
Okay, that might not be a myth! Ironically, many people are already mentoring and don’t realize that is what they are doing. Like leadership, mentoring is something best learned by doing. You start by making the offer to someone who might benefit, or has shown an interest, at work. Maybe one of your colleagues or friends has a child in a college program, or who is just starting out in the workplace. You can sign up for a formal mentoring program in your company or through your professional association (HRPA has a mentoring program). You don’t have to commit to regular meetings to be a mentor. You can mentor someone by meeting with them ONCE. The key is to make it about them – not you. When you sit down with someone, give them your undivided attention and share your experience freely, you’ve mentored.
I hope that this short reminder on the value and ways of mentoring will inspire you to make a New Year’s Resolution to mentor someone. Do it once or create a mentoring partnership. Still don’t want to go it alone? Many companies are participating in programs like “Student on Board” where a university student sits on their Board or a committee to learn how governance groups work. Many cities have a Junior Achievement program, where leaders sign up to be coaches to small student-run businesses. Check if your Marketing or PR department is looking for company spokespeople to speak to local groups about the industry or about leadership. No matter what you do for a living, you won’t have to look far to find a simple way to add meaning to your work.