The Who + What + When + Where + When + Why of Mentoring
January is National Mentoring Month. I can’t think of a more selfless and significant way to make a lasting impact on this world than guiding, molding and mentoring another human being.
Admit it or not, everyone needs a mentor.
Wouldn’t it be nice to have your own sounding board? Inevitably, there are times in our lives when we don’t want to talk about “it” to family or friends. They’re absolute insiders which sometimes makes them too close to the issue. Heck, sometimes they are the issue. They may be scared to hurt our feelings or they may be the ones to hurt us the most.
What exactly is mentoring?
Mentoring is nothing more than interacting and spending quality time with another person (or group of people). Please don’t make it more serious than it has to be and don’t overthink it.
Mentoring can literally take place anywhere.
It can mean spending time at a school, the movies, playing sports or at the park. The “where” is the least important variable while the interaction is the most important.
Mentoring happens on your free time…or maybe not. Mentoring happens when you’re running errands and bring your mentee along. It happens when you’re quietly watching a movie together. Mentoring involves both verbal and nonverbal communication so it can be incorporated into what you’re doing or it can be a focused and engaging interaction.
Why Mentoring “Works”
Mentors are living examples.
If you had your very own mentor then you’d have someone to hold you accountable when needed. He or she would tell you stories about things they’ve accomplished or more importantly they’d communicate what they wished they’d done at your age. Imagine if you had mentors throughout your life, guiding you and holding you accountable along the way. That’s precisely why everyone needs a mentor, especially impressionable children.
How Mentoring Works
Mentoring can be structured or unstructured.
There are really no hard and fast rules when it comes to mentoring. People are oftentimes hesitant about mentoring because they don’t feel like they’ve accomplished enough to be a mentor. Some are scared of what happens if they say the wrong thing or give bad advice. The hardest part for a mentor is to get started. People, children and young adults included, are resilient. When regarded with positive intentions, t’s really hard to “break” a kid. Mentees don’t want or need perfection. They need a human connection.
I spent a large part of my professional career and personal life mentoring. If you want to mentor and you’re at a complete loss then partner with a structured program. Once you’ve become more experienced or if you just prefer to have some help along the way then you might consider unstructured mentoring.
I’ve created structured programs and written many curricula to teach others how to mentor.
5 important points to consider when mentoring:
- Be willing to actively listen.
Mentoring should be “mentee-centered”. Create a platform for mentees to openly express themselves to you. I’m sure you’re great and all but they’re not just there to hear you speak. Which brings me to my next point…
- Talk to them, not at them.
As a mentor you’re probably at least a tad wiser than your mentee. You’ve lived a little and you want to share your experiences to make this world a better place. Cue ***** music That’s all fine and good but please don’t lecture #boring. Save the lecturing for their parents, teachers and other elders. Be the (perhaps the only) adult in his/her life that comes from a place of encouragement and inspiration.
- Be willing to tactfully share your experiences with your mentees. Disclaimer: No one needs the explicit details so skip the inappropriate parts of the story unless it directly relates to a problem that they’ve presented. You’ll get more cool points in the long run by sharing what you learned in hindsight by drinking too much in college than you’ll get by just reminiscing about how cool you were during the drunken binges from 15 years ago. At the same time, be willing to be open so that your mentees knows that you’re actually human, you’ve made mistakes and were able to move forward.
- Be relatable.
As you get to know your mentee you should seek to find a common ground, a set of similarities, between the pair of you to begin building the foundation for a strong relationship. How do you do this, you ask? Simple… just be you. Being relatable doesn’t mean that you act like them. You’ll come off awkward, fake and dare I say it, old. Relax and let things flow. Being relatable means being open, flexible and understanding.
- No judgements, please.
Once you’ve established a great relationship with your mentee, he/she will eventually share some things with you that will make your head spin. You may even be thinking that they’ve lost their mind when you they begin sharing some of their experiences and/or thinking processes but you canNOT be judgmental in the moment. Rather, as you incorporate tips 1-4 above, use what they’re sharing with you to offer advice at a later time. Everything does not have to be addressed immediately. They may want to get some things off of their chest and not be looking to hear your thoughts at the time. They’ll come to accept you for who you are and you should do the same.
Do you want to know what it feels like to work to leave the world in a better place than you found it? Consider becoming a mentor.