By: Kerry Chaffin | Sales and Training Professional
Have you ever had a mentor – either formally or informally? Someone who willingly shared knowledge and experience? Someone who challenged you or whose example you sought to emulate? Someone with whom you could be open and honest and trust that they would share rather than lecture? Someone who believed in you?
I recently enjoyed a conversation with just such a mentor – with whom I’d lost touch. We connected through LinkedIn. (Imagine that!) We picked up the conversation as if no time had passed.
As we caught each other up on our lives, I shared with her that I always learned something from her each time we talked and that I truly valued our relationship. She seemed a little shocked. She didn’t realize what an important role she played in my life.
That got me thinking. How many mentors do it subconsciously? For them, “paying it forward” is a way of life. How many mentors are informal – taking time and an interest in others, even when it’s not required? We’ve all heard stories from famous stars and athletes about how they rose above their situations thanks to a mentor who believed in them.
In the movie, “McFarland, USA” (based on a real-life story), a down-on-his-luck teacher ends up coaching track in a poor, rural school. His students come from migrant families; they work the fields before and after school – some are tough, involved with gangs or other less than positive activities. His efforts help a group of students believe in themselves and together they form a dynamic track team which eventually triumphs at a state track championship.
Mentoring is not just an adult-child activity. As organizations become leaner, job roles expand and co-workers are often more “virtual” than real-time, it’s more important than ever to share what we know and help those around us succeed.
One of my co-workers used to laugh about my amount of Institutional Knowledge. I routinely shared background information with new associates. No, I wasn’t trying to mandate “this is how we’ve always done it, so you better do likewise.” Rather, my goal was to share, “Here’s what we’ve done and this is what we learned. You may find it helpful.”
I wondered what others experienced and thought about mentors. So, I quizzed six business acquaintances from a variety of industries. WOW! What diverse experiences! Only one had an assigned mentor and one had no mentor at all. The rest all learned from informal mentors (one or more) who assisted them in moving their careers forward.
I asked Gregg, a motivational speaker and author, about the greatest benefit of his mentor. He said “The fact that mentors didn’t tell me what to do. They gave me thoughts or ideas to help me make a decision.”
Laurie, a sales professional, thought the greatest benefit for her was, “knowing someone was always there to check up on me and available for me to ask questions. Sharing experiences was key.”
Unanimously, all my contacts agreed that experiences with mentors enriched their lives and careers. Most evolved into long-term relationships, some for more than 20 years.
These long-term relationships often evolved into collaborative partnerships. Angi, a top stylist with Aveda, still interacts with her mentor. Each suggests projects for the other. Both are considered experts in their area, yet still remain open to learning from one another. Ashley, a Senior Programmer Analyst, worked on a paper with her mentor.
Here’s a challenge for each of you reading this article. Add mentoring to your routine! Share your wins and losses and what you learned. Offer to listen! Ask questions! Take an interest! If we all pay it forward, the momentum could radically improve workplace morale, productivity, collaboration and innovation.
You may not be shocked to know the important role you’ve played in someone else’s life, but I guarantee you will be honored, gratified, and pleased to know you’ve created a legacy of helping others succeed.