From the gate, let me explain this one thing. These thoughts are mine, from my personal or professional experience. There is no empirical data, just what I’ve seen and learned throughout my journey.
So, let’s talk about mentoring. Do you have a mentor? Are you a mentor? My personal belief is that there are two times that are most critical for mentorship.
First and foremost, we NEED mentors when we are just beginning our career. Understanding how to navigate a new position within your career is key to getting a fast start; not to mention creating momentum early on. A mentor will help get you situated faster into the organizational culture.
The second time I refer to as necessary for mentoring is when it’s time to reach back and pull forth. Every leader has a responsibility to mentor others. There are times when pockets of mentoring appear before you. Some will come forth in an official capacity and others may be unofficial, but just happen. In any event, we need it.
Leaders need to mentor others and I have two sides of this coin as well. 1) If you have been mentored, you already know the benefits of such a relationship and how it supports your growth, development, and understanding. 2) If you haven’t had the benefits of such a relationship, then you also know the benefits that you missed out on. We shouldn’t want that for the next generation.
Leaders, no matter the level, need mentors and to be mentors. We should always aspire to be more, keep learning, and gain more understanding. Someone once said if you’re not learning, you’re not leading.
So effectively, there are multiple ways to be mentored. Mentoring can take place by books, following others on social media, leadership by example of watching from afar (although this has its detractors as it may lack internal relationship), and person-to-person interaction.
I have had multiple mentors over the years. I have also had one mentor for over 25 years. Mentors are in positions (personal or professional) that are further along than the mentee. Mentors don’t have all the answers, but they know what has worked for them, and hopefully they know why. However, a mentor can provide a snapshot of their experience in certain situations that allow the mentee a version of what can happen; this version good or bad can assist the mentee in decision-making while also understanding the consequences. At least according to the mentor’s experience. Remember, the idea of a mentor is to allow the mentee growth opportunities without the pain.
The strength of my mentorship throughout my career has been the continuous improvement through constant encouragement, challenges, and belief in my abilities. I believe it’s true that personnel excel when the leader exudes his/her belief in the people’s ability and potential. Early on in my mentorship I was challenged, I dared to be better. There were times when I was worn out and didn’t know if I’d be able to make it through the next day after some of those bad days. As I look back on those tough growth seasons, I came to realize the strength of my mentor was a short memory. Those times that were rough because I made decisions that otherwise could have been better, were only momentary. By momentary, I mean what happened yesterday, was just that. The new day brought about a new attitude and my mentor never mentioned the day prior. It was literally water under the bridge.
Every day I came to work it was a new challenge, what’s going to happen today? What can I learn from today’s episodes? I look back now and believe that kind of daily intrigue is exactly what every aspiring leader needs. Well, at least it worked for me. Now, I will never discount the benefits of training, so please don’t think that I believe team members don’t benefit from good training too, but I know mentoring is a necessary bridge in career development. Training is good, but training means nothing without the application of the skills learned from the training. Leaders need to challenge those around them to be better. Not because they’re not good enough, but rather because we should never settle on our laurels. We must always push to the next level through to our better selves.
True mentorship doesn’t’ stop when it’s done correctly. A mentee who finds growth from a mentor will always know and appreciate those lessons learned and how they came about. Not to mention, the impact the opportunities of growth left on the personal life/career. Sometimes, a mentee has to leave a mentor to gain a new or different perspective.
That’s something I experienced first-hand. Years ago, I moved from one position to another as an opportunity to be closer to home. As it turned out, shortly after making that move, I realized that I was not in a good place. I was surrounded by folks in positions with titles, but no authority, autonomy, or backbone to lead and make decisions. I watched so-called leaders be weary of making decisions for fear of what others may believe and constantly be demeaned and belittled by those in charge. This was not a good experience, but I was forced to take it upon myself and grow to another level. It didn’t start great, but I was able to make it work through my due diligence, determination, and pain points.
The lessons I learned from being in a bad place (professionally) taught me a lesson I didn’t expect. During a gathering at my house, I got the opportunity to have a good conversation with my mentor (this was while I was still in a bad place) and during this conversation, he explained that he never could have given me the lessons I’d just gotten had I stayed in the former position I was in. It felt awkward to hear, but in thinking further, he was right. The truth of life is you can learn so many great lessons from less-than-stellar leaders, simply because you learn what things not to do. Great leadership is not a staple in life, but when you see it, you tend to recognize it. What we all must remember is something else my mentor once told me…” You can learn a lot from a dummy”.
That saying is from an old commercial concerning crash dummies for a vehicle company, but the statement is accurate. So, pay more attention to the lessons that come than who they come from. Your perspective may be tainted if you show bias in who you decide to listen to. We don’t have to take all the advice that is given, but we should at least hear what’s being said use what’s good for us and discard what isn’t. All lessons we get when we embrace mentorship from both the mentee and mentor perspective and responsibility. So, it’s your turn now. Who are you mentoring?