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5 Great Reasons to be a Mentor

It's not all about saving the world or 'helping' the next generation. You'll be surprised by how much you get out of it, too.
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My son Jared is a high school sophomore. This is his first year running track, and none of us had any idea which event might be best for him. For Coach Joe, it was never an issue. Jared would be running varsity hurdles. “Is he that good?” I asked. “He will be,” said Joe.

The man should know. He’s been coaching track for 50 years. Fifty.

In his first track meet, Jared came home with a silver medal in the 300-meter hurdles, missing first place by one-tenth of a second. If Coach Joe hadn’t guided him toward hurdles, he might not have found this talent on his own. To quote Jared on Facebook, “I got a medal and I like track now.”

Everyone has gifts and talents to share. Coach Joe can spot a budding hurdler; I can assess a marketing resume in about five seconds. But with everything you’re doing to run your business, manage your team and meet the changing needs of customers -- why should you make time to be a mentor?

Well, as Winston Churchill said, “We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.”

Increase productivity. You know where the landmines are. The employee you're grooming for management doesn't have the map you have. Mentoring is your chance to help that employee be more productive, faster. That's good for both of you.

Strengthen the lessons you’ve already learned.  When you have the chance to teach something to someone else, you learn it better yourself. Maybe it’s been a few years since you learned -- the hard way -- how to hire the right person, raise prices, negotiate a tough contract. There’s no better way to clarify your own thinking on these issues than to explain all this to a newbie.  

Help someone see his or her own gifts.  The elementary school librarian was my very first mentor. Until then, I had no idea I was special in any way. Mrs. Carruth told me I was a good writer. She planted that seed inside my little third grade mind. It wasn’t until college, when I changed my major from engineering to public relations, that I discovered she was right: I could write.

A great mentor is a guide to help navigate the world of business, or life in general. The destination may be happiness or success or actualization or whatever you want to call it. Mrs. Carruth saw my destination sooner than I did and her encouragement stuck. Last year I visited her in an assisted living facility and finally got to thank her.

Reinforce your customer service model. Beyond the specific lesson taught during mentoring, it is by definition generosity in action. and generosity is hard to keep bottled up. Once it gets going, the feeling of generosity will flow toward your customers and clients and you’ll be setting an example for future mentors.

You may learn something new.  I recently spoke with student leaders at San Jose State University and they wanted to know how to stand out among their peers in the highly competitive job market. I shared my thoughts and suggestions -- and then I called in reinforcements. More than 100 expert marketing and communications consultants from my network volunteered to mentor a student. My colleagues were eager to share their experience with students because they wanted to learn from the social-media-savvy generation.

So what is your legacy? You don’t need to be a high-powered executive, national speaker or published author to make a difference. Coach Joe has been inducted into the De La Salle High School Hall of Fame and has the Joe Stocking Super 7 Track Invitational named after him. Why is he still coaching after 50 years? As he says, “I love seeing young people feeling good about themselves and want to return all the support I received during my career.”

If you need a reason to be a mentor yourself, trust me, trust me, you’ll find it the moment you start giving.

Last updated: Mar 14, 2012

RENE SHIMADA SIEGEL | Columnist | Founder, High Tech Connect

Rene Shimada Siegel is founder and president of High Tech Connect, a unique consulting partner for expert marketing and communications. After a successful career in Silicon Valley, she founded her company 15 years ago while juggling three kids under the age of five.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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