I remember when I first joined HP, I was notified by my manager that I was to attend a meeting with HR to discuss mentoring.
I went in thinking, “Boy, I could really use a mentor. I am new here, and this is a big company. A mentor could help me learn about other parts of the company and help me build my network.”
I was stunned in disbelief when I realized that they were recruiting me to BE a mentor. At this point in my career I had no idea what I had to offer. In fact, I was pretty nervous. “I’m going to get found out. … My mentee is going to report me as being a useless mentor.”
I tried to humble my way out of this responsibility, because I was afraid to fail, and because I wasn’t sure I had time to be a mentor. (Interesting to note how I thought I had time to work with a mentor, but not the other way around.)
I failed to avoid it!
I left that meeting as an official mentor awaiting an assignment of my first mentee. I was given a brief pamphlet about mentoring, which I don’t recall having learned anything from, and I was off to the races.
Two main reasons people don’t mentor
- They don’t feel like they have something to offer.
- They don’t think they have enough time.
Let me talk about both of these.
1. You DO have something to offer
What I learned from my mentees surprised me.
They would come and talk to me about what was happening in their jobs, and I would share stories about similar things that I did. (I can’t emphasize enough that it did not feel like I was sharing anything of value.)
I was amazed when they would come back and say, “Thank you so much, I did what you said and it worked wonderfully!” When they repeated back to me what they had learned and what they had done, I was staggered to find out that those stories had been so useful.
The reason this happens makes sense once you think about it.
The things you already know seem obvious to YOU. So you don’t think they are valuable or impressive. They don’t seem fascinating or important — precisely because you already know them!
But the things you know are indeed fascinating and important to others — all the people who don’t know what you know! And you don’t have to know how to be a mentor, you can just start.
No matter where you are in your career you can be a mentor to someone. There is someone who can benefit from what you know. And they will do better from having the encouragement of someone who thinks them worthy of investing in.
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I have been a mentor ever since. I have found it to be a huge source of learning and inspiration. I always learn stuff from the people I mentor.
2. You have enough time
When I was at my busiest as an executive, I would relish my mentoring appointments. It was like having a vacation in my schedule for an hour.
Every other hour I was on the hook to solve problems, negotiate, mediate, make difficult decisions, sell something, invent something. When I had a mentoring appointment, it was a lovely break from my own job. I was not going to end that meeting with bigger problems or more to do.
But the more important part is that you feel better about your job when you help someone else.
You feel more in control. You feel less overwhelmed. If you feel like you have no time, when you give a little time to help someone else, you realize that you do have time. It actually makes you feel less overwhelmed if you give time to help someone else.
How to become a mentor
If you are mentoring today, bravo, and thank you from the world at large.
If you are not, volunteer. Here are some ideas:
- If you have relationships with your manager’s peers, go to them and say, “I am not currently mentoring anyone but would like to. Is there someone in your organization who would benefit?” By the way this does not hurt your credibility with your manager’s peers! But that’s not the primary reason to do it.
- Make the offer to someone in HR. Ask if there are any high performers one or two levels down that would benefit.
- Make the offer to your neighbors. Perhaps they have children entering the workforce.
- Strike a deal with your peers to each mentor someone in the others’ organization. You’ll also get the benefit of getting smarter about the business. You’ll get a steady stream of information from another part of the business, from another level, which you don’t normally interact with. This is gold.
There is really no downside. Be a mentor!
This was originally published on Patty Azzarello’s Business Leadership Blog. Her new book is Rise: How to be Really Successful at Work and LIKE Your Life.