Dear Sam: I have been reading and hearing a great deal about mentors lately. What is mentoring all about and is it something I should look into? I am in my mid-forties and recently accepted a management opportunity within my sales team. Your thoughts on whether I should be a mentor or find a mentor would be great! Thanks – Rob
Dear Rob: The benefits of having or being a mentor are often not obvious, especially to individuals who have lacked access to a mentorship program. Given you are more than 20 years into your professional journey, I certainly believe you could benefit from both coaching those junior to yourself while also developing your own management and/or industry competencies by engaging as a mentee with a leader in your field.
Let’s first look at the benefits of being a mentor.
1. You will connect with the next generation. All too often, seasoned professionals undervalue the knowledge more junior team members can bring to the table. While junior associates may not be as experienced, what they may possess is native connectivity to the ‘new’ and the ‘next.’ Through your coaching and mentorship role, you will not only be passing on the knowledge you have gained along your journey, but also learning from a generation connected in very different ways.
2. You may be seen as a thought leader. The act of being a mentor instills confidence in the deliverer of those lessons. Whether engaging through your workplace or through an external organization, adding a mentorship role to your resume will reinforce your thought leadership and subject matter expert status.
3. You will cultivate your management skillset. If you have been fortunate to have direct reports in your career, perhaps you have refined your people leadership strengths; if not, mentoring is a great way to do so. Learning how to communicate, engage, and teach diverse individuals will only improve your relevance in the workplace.
There are just as many benefits—perhaps more—to becoming a mentee.
1. Deepens and diversifies your knowledge base. You may be considering a transition in your career and, if so, having a mentor that can help you navigate that path would be invaluable. Are you instead seeking that next promotion? If so, showcasing your authentic engagement and interest in the industry and field will only reinforce your brand.
2. Augments your support bench. If you engage with a mentor outside of your workplace, you will be building a relationship that you will find extends far beyond mentorship. In this partnership, you will find part therapist, life coach, friend, confidant, and cheerleader! Having someone outside of your immediate network invest time and energy in your brand could provide the focus to fuel your career for the next 20 years!
3. Helps mitigate your mistakes. Chances are that your mentor has learned lessons from his/her mistakes; having someone who has already walked that path will help you prevent your own costly errors. Not to say that learning those lessons through your own mistakes isn’t incredibly valuable, but a mentor can help you navigate those career challenges and decision points with what could be extremely valuable insights.
Becoming a mentee can sometimes be as simple as asking a leader in your space. Think about how flattered a potential mentor would be on receiving a personal request for a couple of hours of his/her time each month. Maybe your repayment is as simple as lunch each month! Perhaps you belong to an industry organization and can reach out to seasoned members about the possibility of learning from their wisdom. Similarly, if you are connected to an industry organization, it will likely have a young professional’s group; contact the group and explore what opportunities there may be to engage as a mentor. Taking either step could benefit you, at this juncture in your career, Rob, and I wish you the best in your search for the right mentor or mentee.