Whether through a formal company initiative or through informal organic relationships, many leaders find themselves asked to make time in their busy schedules for mentoring. Those who have benefited from having a mentor see the concrete value in becoming mentors themselves.
The Difference Between Managing and Mentoring
Part of being a manager and a leader is developing the people who work for you and others in your organization. Providing professional development benefits the team and the company. Investing time and energy into those activities results in people who are more effective at their positions, stay with the company longer and give discretionary effort to their jobs.
When the conversation shifts from development within the person's current position or targeted skills to more broad conversations about career planning and long term goals, you are crossing the line into new territory. When leaders have these conversations with people who are not in a line of reporting or from outside their own organizations, they are definitively in the mentoring sphere.
Mentoring requires a more personal connection and a willingness to share your own journey. To have effective mentoring conversations, you must have a higher level of self-awareness and self-reflection. Your professional journey is a kind of blueprint for those you mentor. In order to guide them, you have to have a deep understanding of how you got to where you are, be purposeful in thinking about your own skills and knowledge.
You must also have the distance from your own story to see that it isn't an exact path to follow; it is merely an example. In order for your conversations to be actionable for the people you mentor, you will need to take a mix if your own narrative and their experiences to develop tailored guidance. "This is how I did it." isn't a sufficient answer. You sprinkle in what you've learned with what you know about the other person and turn it into a dialogue.
In mentoring relationships, other than the benefit of shaping the organizations' next leaders or increasing diversity in leadership, mentors don't gain benefits. Or do we?
The Benefits of Mentoring
In the conversations I have with those I mentor, there are two ways in which I'm getting something out of the effort I'm putting in. I'm either revisiting skills and knowledge or the conversation leads me to new insights about my own career path.
We can all improve on our talents as well as our weaknesses. When working with your mentees on their development, you'll be taking a thoughtful approach to how a person hones the skills you have used to be successful thus far. The give and take in those conversations will force you to look at those skills with fresh eyes and articulate them in ways you never have before.
Even more powerful are the "how did you get here" talks. No matter how purposeful you are in forging your career path often the best opportunities arise unexpectedly. Most successful people will tell you that making your own opportunities means being prepared for and recognizing the right one when it presents itself. As you share your experiences with the people you mentor, you'll be taking a critical look back and find you can learn from yourself.
Two employees approached me recently to ask when it would be a good time to put time on my calendar to ask career questions. My answer was "Always." I told them I find I get as much learning and energy back from those conversations as I put it. It is time well spent on my own development.
Margaret Ruvoldt is a General Manager at 2U, Inc and an avid believer in both mentoring and reverse mentoring.