Re-energize Yourself by Being a Mentor

MH900439562As we windup this year, I find that many clients are searching for what’s missing in their work lives. Not more work, but something that gives more meaning to their effort. Let’s face it, even though popular gurus are extolling the benefit of doing what you love, in the real work world it can be hard to find the clear match between what you most care about and how you earn a living.  There is one thing I want to inspire you to do in 2013 that will create that link in a surprisingly simple way.  This is a way that you can rekindle your own interest, engagement and even passion for the work you contribute to the world.

It starts with an awareness of what others need. Have you heard about the crisis of underemployment that Canadian graduates are facing? We have many young people earning degrees, and then languishing in jobs where they are under-utilized. (For a good look at this recent social phenomenon, and the factors that are creating it, read the article in October’s issue of The Walrus.)  Short of creating more entry-level and co-op jobs for post-secondary grads, what can you do? Here’s the simple way you, on your own, can make a difference. You can mentor someone. Mentoring is simply a commitment to spend regular time with someone who can benefit from what you know, and what you’ve done. It doesn’t require you to spend money, or go somewhere new. In fact, mentoring is as simple as sharing a coffee break with someone.

Let me bust some myths about Mentoring.

It has to be a formal mentoring commitment.

While some companies have instituted HR-driven mentoring programs, research shows that some of the best partnerships are formed informally. If you have coffee once a week with an employee who wants to learn from you – you’re already a mentor. Don’t think you have to join a program to mentor (although you CAN join a program; lots exist in your community.) Instead, think about making yourself accessible. If you look too busy and too important, no one will approach you to mentor. Start by noticing new employees, those whose career interests or path seems similar to yours, and more junior staff who are keen to learn. When someone asks you a question, instead of firing off an email response, offer to sit down with them and talk in-depth about the subject. Stop providing answers, and start providing context and intrinsic knowing from which your answers spring.

You have to be wise (a.k.a old) to be a mentor

The old-school model of mentoring was driven by professions where it took decades to become a Master, and apprentices were taught by the ancients (are you thinking of The Karate Kid?)  Actually, no matter your age or level, you have something worth sharing. It’s your unique perspective that a mentee will benefit from. Instead of being a lecturer-teacher, the best mentors are great listeners. They act as a sounding board. They ask curious questions, they challenge thinking, and they add perspective. Within an organizational setting, a mentor can shed light on the mysteries of the political dynamics. A mentor isn’t meant to be a guru, but a trusted colleague.

I’d waste my time being a mentor.

It’s easy to imagine that a mentoring partnership is work for the mentor, and gain for the mentee. Research finds that mentors benefit as much, or more, than the person they are mentoring. That’s because the best mentorships are relationships based on trust, which comes from face-to-face rich dialogue. You may start out thinking that you’ve nothing left to learn, and be pleasantly surprised. Mentoring more junior staff, or those in different departments, will often bring you important information long before you need it. If you let go of the guru position, and invite it, your mentee will challenge you to think differently and show you sides of the business or industry that you don’t have ready access to. This is gold for leaders, who make better decisions when they have multiple perspectives and something to counter-balance their bias. When you try to see the world through the eyes of your mentee, all kinds of things open up.

In an upcoming post I’ll share three more myths about mentoring. Tell me some of how you’ve experienced positive mentoring.

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