In my experience…mentors are magic
I’ve been lucky to have had people surrounding me my entire life that wanted the best for me, and were there to lend a hand, advice, encouragement or money (thanks mom and dad…all $ has been paid back now!). Reflecting back to my illustrious one-season t-ball career, I can equate those instances of help to having someone put the ball on the tee for me. It was then up to me to take it from there. I say I’m lucky because there are those who haven’t had as much help putting the ball on the tee. On the other hand, there are those who’ve had someone swing for them as well, so I’m probably not at either extreme on that spectrum.
In all of this, I’ve come to appreciate the importance of having people in your corner. In our professional lives those people are typically called mentors. In my experience, mentors are magic. Mentors can be anyone from family members to friends to colleagues to acquaintances to coaches to even strangers. Mentor-mentee relationships can be brief, done in the span of a single interaction, or ongoing, as in a multi-year relationship. Mentors can be formally assigned or informally acquired. Sometimes, depending on the nature of the relationship, the mentor and mentee switch roles as needs dictate.
Being a Mentee
The key to being a mentee is your openness to it. You don’t know everything and never will. You’re not the best at everything and never will be. Even those that are the best at one thing have mentors for other things. Having, needing or wanting a mentor is the positive recognition that others have value, and that value may be beneficial to you.
It’s a challenge to find the right balance of time, energy and resourcefulness to expect of and ask from a mentor. While there isn’t an alarm that sounds to let you know when you’ve reached the mentorship limit, you need to be aware of the signals (verbal and non-verbal). My learning with regard to being a mentee is that it’s important to be respectful, inquisitive, responsive and gracious.
There will be times when you’re left wanting more, other times where you’ve received more than you wanted or expected and of course the ideal, when your need was met perfectly. It’s good to understand the dynamics of being a mentee for two reasons. First, so you get as much value as you need to out of it. Second, you’ll likely be a mentor at some point, so you’ll know both sides of the relationship.
Being a Mentor
I’ve found that people want to help whether they call it mentoring or not. It’s hard to count the number of mentors I’ve had over time. I also can’t put a number on how many people I’ve mentored. The key to being a mentor is recognizing that you are one and the responsibility that comes with it. If people are coming to you for advice, guidance or just to talk, you’re likely a mentor.
I don’t know if I’m a good mentor, but I know what I want in a mentor. First and foremost, I want someone who listens. If they don’t listen, how do they know what I need? Once they listen, they may go a different direction than I was expecting, but I trust that’s out of an expertise or knowledge they have that they believe will benefit me. I’ve learned to expect the unexpected with mentors. Their insight can be almost magical in the way it opens my mind to new ideas and ways of looking at opportunities.
Availability and presence are what being a mentor is all about. Mentors share about their successes and failures, since they’ve learned from both. As a mentor you’ll need patience, empathy, confidence and decisiveness. The decisiveness isn’t the context of telling your mentee what the right decision is, rather deciding specifically which information you’ll provide them that allows them to make the right decision for themselves.
In summary, remember that it’s a privilege to be a mentor. You likely needed (or still need) one, so be open to the calling to be one yourself.