“I’m your mentor…ra ra ra…..you’re amazing….ra ra ra… You can do anything….” Oh wait, have I gone off track? Thought for a minute I was on the sidelines, watching, cheering someone on, willing them to success. I was thinking about a conversation a couple of weeks ago where I was reminded about the role mentors play in our personal and professional lives, and just how important they can be in supporting our growth and development. Mentors are our cheerleaders – they cheer, support, encourage and most importantly shake the pom poms and do the high kicks to help cleanse us of our self doubt.
In a conversation with one person, I was expressing just how influential my mentors have been in my career. Curious, I asked whether they themselves had a mentor. The immediate response of “No I don’t. Do you have one you could recommend?” got me thinking about just how much of a personal choice our mentors are and how we ourselves can be mentors.
Do we choose mentors or they choose us?
In my experience, mentors have simply appeared at the right time. A little like fate – they’ve come along when I’ve needed guidance, development, conversation, growth and sometimes clarity from all the chaos and confusion. There’s two ways I’ve had mentor-mentee relationships established.
This relationship was established through participation in a leadership development program, and if that hadn’t happened, I’m not sure I’d have ever seen Jack* as a mentor. He has supported my leadership development , and although (truthfully) it took a long time to see him as a mentor he has had a significant impact on where I’m at in my professional career today.
Jack and I did spend a fair amount of time establishing trust (a crucial element of the mentor-mentee relationship) given the mentoring relationship was a requirement. In the course of building this trust and unpacking our life experiences, we realised there were some similarities, and with this the connection we needed developed. I have truly valued Jack’s insights, commentary, openness and support; my learning however is to ensure if I select a mentor again to ensure there’s a basic level of trust already established.
Chosen by mentor
With another mentor, I didn’t even realise I was in need, however she did and has subsequently been a significant influencer of my professional career over at least the last five years.
I adore spending time with Mary* and always leave feeling invigorated, confident and with new ideas. I feel like I could conquer the world (well…at least learning and development world). She’s the one who helps me unpack my thoughts and turn them into action, she challenges and tests me; she’s the one who holds up a mirror and gets me thinking about how I develop and maintain relationships. This last part is often a daunting aspect of a mentor’s role and having this mentor-mentee relationship occur organically has ensured trust, safety and that it’s okay to be vulnerable. We’ve established the relationship quickly and effortlessly because of the existing trust.
Are we open to being mentors for others?
I wrote a while ago about Gilbert*, one of my favourite experiences over the last 18 months or so. It’s a hugely rewarding experience seeing someone achieve their goals and knowing you’ve helped their journey. The mentoring relationship I had with Gilbert has reinforced for me that I like to be surrounded by people who seek some level of mentoring.
I’m always mindful that I’ve organically grown relationships with my more recent mentor, so never force or expect that someone is going to want to choose me as theirs. Mentoring may be an enduring relationship covering a broad range of needs, or a short term relationship focused on a singular need.
I love that having a learning and development leadership role enables me to be available to mentor others. Asking questions, prompting thought, understanding someone’s goals and development needs, and of course being their cheerleader. Always being mindful of what their needs are – short and long term.
Do we wear the name badge?
Personally, I’d never wear a badge with “Hello…I am Your Mentor” but I love being available to be a mentor when and as needed. In conversation with someone (we’ll call him Ryan*), they reflected on people they’ve been influenced by during their career and immediately recognised how these people have actually been actively mentoring them during specific phases. Interestingly enough – Ryan didn’t recognise they were actually being mentored.
Why didn’t Ryan recognise he was being mentored? I suggest they’d never stuck their name badge on and declared themselves as a “mentor for hire”. They’ve been able to mentor without labelling it as that. From my experiences, and the conversations I’ve had with others, I suggest this is the best way of approaching it. Be there and available; let it be organic; simply invest time and energy in people asking for help; be a sunlight source (this was covered in a previous post); listen actively; ask questions; understand their goals; and be accepting of a mentor-mentee relationship not working or being short term. Of course, this is all dependent on what you’re wanting to achieve and individual mentoring needs (so won’t work for everyone).
I’ll leave you with words Ryan wrote in a card recently. It was left on my desk and truly made me grateful for the role mentors have had in my life and helped me reflect on what I can offer him as a potential mentor (I’ll let that relationship develop organically).
The greatest mentors INSPIRE.
How will you shake your pom poms, be a cheerleader and inspire someone?
* Names have been changed, but I’ve no doubt they’ll know who they are.