I invite you pause and reflect on the many personal and professional meanings of the word, “mentor.” Realize that there are many filters you look through as you define that word. I have identified at least four filters that cloud or clarify the activities and results of mentoring. I will share my perspective of those four lenses, and offer you six ways to pursue effective mentoring in practice. Pick the tactics that work for you and please share your wins. (Tag me on social media, so I can celebrate with you!)
Are you ready? The acronym I use is N2C2: nature, nurture, choice, and chance.
- When you think of asking for help from a mentor, what is your NATURAL starting point? Look back on your (recent) past and identify times you asked for help early on or waited until the last minute. Sure, personality assessments might help you gain insight here; so would studying Emotional Intelligence. As you explore the concept of mentoring this month, account for your own natural tendencies and how readily you ask for and benefit from being mentored. The best mentors I have learned from are good because they practice being a mentor and receiving mentoring.
- Next is NURTURE. Over the last few years (or decades!), what have been your positive (and negative!) experiences with mentoring? I remember working with an organization, helping from the outside as it built an internal mentoring program. In an earlier company-wide assessment, many survey respondents shared they were dissatisfied with past attempts at a “matchmaking” approach to mentoring. The effort leaders in the company ultimately put into place took a little bit longer, but since they slowed down and nurtured mentoring relationships, more people claimed they were satisfied with the mentoring practices in the months afterwards.
- The third lens we see through is CHOICE. This is a good lens to journal about if you have not done so lately. Make time and think about when in your own life you have chosen to be mentored. (Remember, to mentor productively, we need experiences of being mentored productively). Reflect on instances where you asked for and received mentoring; be sure to identify positive AND negative results. Also, think back on times you did NOT ask for mentoring but could or should have. Looking out at the people you work with or lead, be sure to wonder, “How are they making choices about mentoring or being mentored?”
- Finally, the lens of CHANCE is the one we do not always acknowledge but often plays a significant part in our experience. Want to run an experiment? Make a list of the people you call “mentors.” Once you have more than five, reflect on the ways that chance played into you meeting and learning from them. Maybe you were in the right place at the right time; maybe someone introduced you even though they did not need to. Whatever the case, ensure you open the door to serendipity as it plays a part in you being mentored and finding a mentee.
Here are six things to consider as you explore mentoring for yourself or your organization:
M: Meaningful Conversations
Mentoring sessions can go off topic (or off the rails!) if you stay in the “talking about” range of conversations. Make a point to discuss what is under the surface, what is causing the reason for mentoring, what is deeply meaningful to each person. If you are the mentee, be willing to go for it. And if you are the mentor, find communication and Emotionally Intelligent tools and tactics to get the conversation to go deeper.
E: End with a Promise
Are you the mentee? If so, tell your mentor (specifically) what you are going to do. Write it down and schedule it on your calendar. Later on, reconnect asynchronously, virtually, or in person to close the loop. My advice is to ALWAYS under promise and over deliver here. When I am the mentee, I give my mentor a due date on my task that is three to five days later than I think I can get it done. This does two things: 1) It lets me get back to them early; or 2) It gives me a buffer of time just in case I need it.
N: (Take) Notes Throughout the Process
I am in awe of how many people I have met with for a mentoring session who did not bring a notebook or a pen. Don’t be that person!
T: Thank You Cards
I handwrite and send a thank you card to everyone who helps me. Over the last three years, I completed my doctoral work (phew…done!) and along the way I was helped by SO many people. Early on in the process, I bought cards in bulk and sent one to two each week to the people who helped me learn, research, write, and defend my dissertation. Written cards make a difference. Try it and let me know how it goes!
O: Offer Reverse Mentoring (as the Mentee)
If you have a mentor, look for ways to add value in return. Look for things your mentor is trying to do and help them where you can. My advice here is to do the reverse mentoring asynchronously. Personally, I am a fan of making a video and sending it afterward. During a mentoring session, I look for something my mentor is learning to do. A few days later, I record a video and send them an idea or two they might use from my perspective.
R: Receive Gratitude (as the Mentor)
Finally, as the mentor let your mentee practice being grateful. Really let it sink in. True personal and professional development is a gift to be cherished. Remember to clarify what mentoring means to you, it might make all the difference in your world at work…and in life.