We all understand the value of having a great mentor--the skills, experience, and perceptions we can glean from the experts we admire. But, do we truly understand the value of being a great mentor--the insights we've gained and can share with others?
Let's be real, mentorship often falls into a gray area, where we're all a little unsure of whether or not it's actually happening. Are they a mentor? Am I a mentor? Is someone in this relationship being a mentor or just sharing advice? It's hard to know. Of course as a leader, it's your job to help people become their best at work. But outside of work, mentorship kind of feels like it's not real unless it's wrapped into some sort of formality--a program, or an agreement between two people.
I'll admit, I didn't realize I was mentoring people until a former coworker gave me the title of "mentor." I thought I was just helping a friend, and telling stories. I also didn't realize how many people I've mentored through the years, even though my wife is constantly asking me why I agree to take so many phone calls from strangers, former colleagues, people I meet when I'm speaking, or people who have simply been given my name--some have issues they want to resolve at work, and others (my favorites) have goals of achieving their dreams. I'll listen. But, I never considered myself a mentor.
Maybe my humble Midwestern upbringing resists the formal, seemingly grandiose title of being an official "mentor." Nevertheless, as I recently questioned whether or not my time was worth listening to all these voices, situations, and dreams, I started to realize all of the extremely valuable things I've learned from giving advice to others. It can be more valuable than me receiving advice.
Here are six things to help you understand why you should consider mentoring just as valuable as being mentored.
1. You see the world dispassionately.
Often times when we seek advice we not only present our situation's facts, but we drag along all of our emotional baggage that comes with it. Acting as a mentor you quickly realize that many of the emotions involved in situations are simply noise that distracts people from making the right decisions. Learn from this. Because although you may be listening to someone else's emotional noise, it can clearly show you where you might have let noise distort your thinking.
2. You make connections you may have overlooked.
As a mentor, you're probably not an expert on everything. However, I often find myself connecting the people who ask me for advice to someone I know who can give that person better advice than I could image. Acting as a mentor often leads you to reigniting old relationships. It forces you to look at your own network and see where you might be able to creating winning collaborations for both parties. And, I can tell you this, I've been thanked throughout my career by numerous people for making these connections.
3. You learn new questions.
The irony about media outlets like Inc.com is that so much of the content focuses on people and companies who are seemingly doing everything right in business. Yes, we can all learn from that. But, I'm also a passionate believer that we all can learn just as much about business from the people who are facing hurdles and challenges. We can learn from their questions, because they open our minds to new constraints, new frustrations, and new perspectives.
4. You recognize the human aspect.
A good mentor doesn't just tell you how to do your specific job better. In fact, the best mentors in my career have given me advice about the bigger aspects of business--how to build trust, act with kindness, and do the right thing.
5. Revisit your story and growth.
Like me, you may not consider yourself a voice of wisdom. But don't shortchange yourself. Mentoring often takes you down a trip through your own history to reveal stories, experiences, and insights that you may have forgotten. Take the trip. You have more to offer the world than you might believe.
6. "You thinking" is more valuable than "Me thinking."
If there's one thing I've learned from mentoring, it's this. Focusing on how any relationship will benefit your interest is far less effective than focusing on how you can help someone else. Remember this with every relationship. It will serve you well to focus on someone other than yourself.
None of us are in this game alone. And, although it's important to find great mentors, it's also just as important to share your experiences, knowledge, and life lessons with those who seek it.