“Why should I be a mentor? What’s in it for me?” can be the response when people are approached to lend their support to a mentoring scheme. Fortunately, there are also those who simply want to support others and give a little back when a new mentoring scheme gets announced. As someone who has the privilege of training new mentors when clients set up mentoring schemes, I’ve found that even enthusiastic volunteers may initially be a little stuck to identify exactly what they’ll get out of being a mentor.
There are some obvious advantages for the mentee (clunky term, I know, but at least it’s clear). But what’s in it for the mentor?
1. You’re not their boss
What this means in practice is that you can focus on the mentee with far, far fewer distractions than you can when you’re someone’s boss. When you’re the manager you have to get the best from people as well as juggle competing tasks and demands, all at the same time. The urgent task will easily hog attention versus that “how are you doing?” conversation you’ve been meaning to have. Not so when you’re a mentor – the time you spend with the mentee is all about development.
2. You get to practise your management skills
Because you’re not your mentee’s boss, you get to practise those management skills you’ve been meaning to try. You know, the ‘ask, don’t tell’ mantra from that ‘coaching skills for managers’ course that you so enjoyed. Having a go at encouraging someone to generate their own solutions, and seeing them feel deservedly pleased they came up with something that seemed beyond them a short while ago. Away from the coalface, you’ll be able to apply all you’ve learned about what motivates (and demotivates) people, gets them to give of their best and gently pushes them to step up and take action.
3. You get the warts and all version of the workplace
This can be a real wake-up call for more senior and experienced people stepping into a mentoring role: “I can’t believe it! Is it REALLY like that for our new people these days?” Yes, it is. Brace yourself: you may hear some hard luck stories – and you may hear some inconvenient truths. Resist the urge to dig the dirt: you’re a mentor not International Rescue, so your job is to hear the mentee out, help them generate ideas and test them out with you acting as sounding board. And at the same time learn what life’s really like for people starting out in your firm / industry.
4. You share and learn
A conundrum for trainee mentors is they know they’re not supposed to hand solutions to the mentee on a plate – but what if the mentee just doesn’t know? After all, isn’t a mentor there to share their wisdom and experience? Yes you are – and there are ways to do that whilst avoiding the trap of (sits back, hands on head, legs proudly parted and says…) “Ah yes, I remember a time when something similar happened to me…” Instead, you can offer your mentee several options based on your own experience (both first- and second-hand) and then ask them which one, if any, looks right to them. As you dredge up these experiences you may experience the warm glow of knowing more than you thought you did.
5. You become a talent-spotter
As you develop your mentoring relationship and it matures, the formal aspect will come to an end. You can take on a new mentee and work with someone who’s facing different challenges. Over time, you’ll build your own skills at spotting talent and what characteristics mark out the mentees who go on to great things. Adding ‘talent spotter’ to your bow can be a valuable career move.
You may also find this blog post useful: ‘Essential questions mentors need to ask’.
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