As a young consultant I really thought I had it all together. I was getting great ratings, great raises, and wonderful accolades from clients. Because I (in my own mind) thought I was such hot stuff, I was not active in seeking out advice from more experienced colleagues. After all, what could they teach me?
As I matured from an inexperienced hot-shot to an experienced manager, I developed a much stronger appreciation for the wisdom my more experienced colleagues could impart. This appreciation didn't happen naturally; I had to get my butt chewed off a bunch of times to realize that a wiser and more experienced colleague could help me get through the tough times and learn from my mistakes. I also needed a wiser colleague to hold a mirror up to my face to help me see my weaknesses. I needed (and still need) a mentor to help me be more effective as a leader.
Whether for personal or professional reasons, having a mentor to turn to for advice and counsel is a very effective means of transforming knowledge into wisdom. Before I go any further, let's get a definition of wisdom in place:
Knowledge + Experience = Wisdom
In a mentoring relationship, a mentoree, or person being mentored, typically brings a lot of knowledge to the table. The mentoree has learned the fundamentals of how to do his or her job and can probably do the basics well. The mentor, or the person doing the mentoring, provides experience. The mentor provides perspective on what to do when things aren't optimal or when difficult situations crop up. When the experience from the mentor is transferred to the mentoree, it accelerates the wisdom building process because the mentoree now doesn't have to learn solely through his or her own mistakes. The mentoree is able to learn from a combination of his own mistakes and the mentor's advice.
For mentoring relationships to work well, I've found several items to be very important:
The mentor should not have a direct reporting relationship with the mentoree. The mentoree can feel free to speak about issues which may be plaguing him without fear of retribution from a boss.
The mentor must want to be a mentor. Mentoring is an incredibly important responsibility that is likely over and above any other existing responsibilities. If the leader doesn't want to be a mentor, she is going to view the time spent mentoring as a nuisance.
The mentoree should have a desire for a mentor. The mentoree needs to see the value in the relationship and have a desire to benefit from the relationship, otherwise both parties will just go through the motions until their time is over.
Be a best-in-class mentor by zeroing in on these five attributes:
1. Be available for your mentoree - You need to define how much time you are able to spend in a mentoring relationship and commit the time to do it. If you're just too busy to mentor, don't do it.
2. Make listening a priority - A mentor who listens will understand the struggles and issues a mentoree experiences and can better help him with a solution. The best listening mentor assumes little when talking with the mentoree; she lets the mentoree communicate his struggles and issues, then targets what is most important. Just as important, a listening mentor builds trust with the mentoree.
3. Keep confidences - Any particulars about the mentoring relationship are between the mentor and the mentoree, period. As a mentor, assume that everything about the relationship is off limits for others and ensure that if anything about the relationship is found out it is because the mentoree has divulged it, not you as the mentor.
4. Tell it straight - Mentoring relationships where the mentor and mentoree can have direct and constructive discussions are highly beneficial to the mentoree's growth. Telling it straight means discussions are constructive, respectful, and specific. Just remember to build trust in the relationship first by being a good listener and keeping confidences.
5. Have the courage to stop if the relationship isn't working - If you're having a difficult time connecting on common interests, if meetings with the mentoree feel like more of an obligation versus something you look forward to, or if mentorees don't pursue meeting, it may be time to call it quits. Some relationships just aren't meant to be, so accept it and move on. Do look at the reasons the relationship didn't work out and look for patterns you as a mentor should address that maybe you can work on with your mentor.
Put these five attributes into action to help you be a best-in-class mentor. Do this well and you give something priceless to your mentoree: wisdom.