When you think of mentoring, what comes to mind? An older senior executive partnering with a young up and comer? This is what most people picture, but experience has taught me it’s so much more.
The window of what people often think mentoring applies to is very narrow. But it doesn’t have to be confined to a professional setting or to certain ages and roles. You can be a mentor to someone in your community with whom you have a personal connection, or if you are a young person, you might mentor an older person with something like technology.
Mentoring provides a way for us to make a difference in the world by connecting with people to build significant relationships. In the context of those relationships, we open our minds and hearts to learn new perspectives and skills.
Professional organizations have given me an opportunity to mentor and be mentored. Last year Southern District ITE hosted a speed mentoring session as part of its virtual annual meeting. It was fun to help plan that event and record an introductory message with tips for creating good mentoring relationships. During speed mentoring I was able to reconnect with folks that I had not seen in a long time and meet new acquaintances that are now becoming friends.
At Sain, we have an informal mentoring approach. We’ve developed a culture that supports and encourages relationships among our staff. Sometimes we will seek sources for mentors outside the firm. In these situations, we can match our staff with others in our network that might be good advisors. I’m also always looking outside of Sain for people we can support and help.
One of the things people need the most is encouragement, someone who will stand in the background as a cheerleader and coach. Sometimes people also need a proverbial kick in the pants. I’ve certainly experienced that. A prod from Jim Meads, Sain’s President/CEO, was what I needed fourteen years ago to tackle a big goal that I could have found all kinds of reasons not to do. His challenge and the respect I have for him as a mentor made me take the plunge.
So, the power of mentoring comes from how much it enriches our developmental growth with multiple sources and perspectives, not only as professionals but as individuals.
For those interested in being a mentor, I always caution realism in your expectation about how much time it will take. Mentoring is about building a relationship with somebody. If you just dabble in it, no one will get much out of it.
Go in with your eyes wide open. There are many cheerful and fun things about mentoring, but it can also be hard when you become that engaged with another person. You’re not always going to be sharing the good parts of their life. Committing yourself to another person may mean you walk through some dark places with them.
To me, this is like treading on holy ground. I can’t imagine something more special or humbling than to walk through something that’s very tough with someone. The real value in mentoring comes from having a close relationship with another human being.
If mentoring is something you’ve been thinking about from either end of the spectrum, this is a great time to start connecting. As we emerge from the isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic we have a renewed understanding of the negative effects of a less human- and more technology-focused world. Mentoring relationships are needed more than ever.