tA significant part of our career direction is shaped by the influence and guidance of others. For better or worse, teachers, parents, co-workers, significant others, relatives, community members, siblings, best friends, arch rivals, public figures, bosses — even that nice librarian from fifth grade — have all had a hand in forming how you see the world and the skills and talents you’ve developed. You may even have had a formal mentor.
tThere’s a point in your career when you realize that the next step for you is to help someone else achieve his or her goals. It’s time for you to be the mentor.
tRight now, I’m mentoring a woman who is planning to start her business next spring. As she tackles financing, branding, real estate, and personnel issues, I find myself considering our own business practices in a new light. I am thoroughly enjoying the experience.
tChoosing to actively make a difference in someone’s life is what being a mentor is all about. There are a host of reasons to become a mentor, not limited to injecting energy and enjoyment into your own life, enhancing your communication skills, and developing different perspectives that may further your understanding of the world. I’m always amazed at the power of a simple question from a non-expert: the way in which they innocently challenge my thinking, forcing me to explain it in a new context. I am better for the experience.
tThere are lots of ways to be a mentor, both formal and informal. Here are three opportunities to get going:
t1) Become a mentor at work
tSome workplaces have formal mentoring programs with guidelines, a matching process, and training for mentors. (The best ones have training for the protégés or mentees, too.) In other workplaces, the system is more informal. Either way, you have an opportunity to impact a co-worker’s career and your organization’s performance by becoming a mentor. It can be as simple as having lunch once every few weeks, or meeting with them before or after work to talk about new ideas. Formal mentoring programs will often outline the scope of the relationship, and it usually includes goal-setting, identifying ways to gain expertise, and sharing your experience.
tWhether formal or informal, mentoring is typically done best outside the normal reporting structure. This gives you an outside view of things, and prevents your reporting relationship from clouding the mentoring. When you take the time to make yourself and your expertise available, you’re helping your mentee improve their career while showing you are a valuable member of the team yourself.
t2) Become a mentor in your community
tMaybe you’ve got a lot going on at work already and you’d like to do something beyond work — something where you can create a special bond that can dramatically change a young person’s life in your community.
tLocal organizations such as Winning Futures and Big Brothers Big Sisters of America help with making the connection and providing the training and support you need to build a successful relationship. These experiences help you build communication and coaching skills, while broadening your perspective at the same time.
t3) Become a mentor in your field or industry
tLooking for something bigger? Or maybe you’d like to expand your network and connect with someone outside of your normal circles? In that case, becoming a mentor in your industry or field may be the best way to have an impact.
tThis may feel like a bigger commitment than reaching out at work or in your community. We all have so many things to balance in our lives that taking a leap to be a mentor to someone outside of our normal circle may feel like too big a challenge. Be realistic about your schedule and ability to commit to a mentee. Embracing the challenge of mentoring in your field helps develop the next generation of skilled employees. Sites such as MyMentorAdvisor.com seek to pair experienced or retired experts with younger workers.
tStill on the fence?
tYou’ve probably seen the billboards for foster and adoptive parents that promise, “You don’t have to be perfect to be a perfect parent.” The same goes for mentors.
tA recent study published in CBE Life Sciences Education found that potential mentors in STEM fields at an undergraduate university were hesitant to take on a mentee when the mentor felt reluctant about their own choice to pursue academic careers. A good mentor can take up these challenges with a mentee. Don’t shy away from having tough conversations. In fact, having tough conversations like this may help crystallize your own thinking and approach.
tWhen you make the choice to become a mentor, you’re dedicating your time towards improving the future at work, in your community, or in your industry. By choosing to become a mentor, you shape your own life and experiences, too. How’s that for making a difference?
tMegan Torrance is the president and CEO of TorranceLearning, an elearning design and development firm in Chelsea.