The Tough Challenge of Being a Mentor
YouTube-type skills can be challenging—learning life and career skills can seem impossible—that’s what mentoring is all about.
YouTube amazes me. In a matter of seconds you can learn to cook African food, learn to install a garbage disposal, or build a rocket ship in the backyard that will reach a thousand feet.
But passing on life skills? Say to children?
Ugh. How many parents despair of that?
Mentoring encounters with kids can go something like this . . .
. . . You know, honey, you might not want to put your homework in a Ziplock with your French fries. I tried something like that once and the results were really gross.
Response: Oh, Mom, Ziplocks are in with the popular crowd.
. . . or Son, national recognition as a video gamer can get you lots of attention, but your GPA will follow you forever.
Response: Oh, Dad, forever is a really long time from now.
. . .and sometimes at parent/child conferences: You know, Johnny, you and your girlfriend sleep until 1:00 PM every day. You’re planning on getting married. How’s that going to work with four kids?
Response: Oh Mom, we’re so in love and we can work that out.
Why do we learn from YouTube , , , but not easily from life? That’s the role of mentoring.
I never heard the word mentoring until adulthood. Now I learned that January is National Mentoring Month. Who knew?
Mentoring has become really big in organizations because it pays off. Forbes Magazine says that 71 percent of Fortune 500 companies have a mentoring program. In a study done of the people who had access to mentoring 25% of those who received mentoring enjoyed raises and promotions within a year, while only 5% of those who received no mentoring achieved the same results.
But most of us have also been a part of—as mentor or mentee—of mentoring relationships that didn’t work. So how do you make mentoring work?
- The Mindset for Mentoring—Ready to Give and Receive. A person who mentors has to see the person mentored as a world of possibility. I had an amazing boss years ago who would say to me,
“Jack, let’s say you’re President of General Motors and one of your employees comes to you with this problem .” I don’t remember what the problem was that he was teaching me about but, oh my goodness, he put me in the place of President of General Motors and suggested that I had the potention to be a major CEO. I just burst with pride and listen, ready to put into place anything he might suggest.
One thing that I can truly say about myself is that I was a sponge for what people around me had to teach me. I came from a family that lacked mentoring skills, and I was hungry to learn, and that served me well. If you mentor someone, you have to see them as people of great potential… and they have to be ready to be mentored.
- As a Mentor, Your Job Is NOT to Clone Yourself. In my early life, I thought of myself as the gold standard of how a person ought to be. I was goal directed, achievement oriented, and I believed that people’s feelings should never get in the way of getting the project done. I couldn’t understand why everyone didn’t share my views and values, and tried to make everyone I knew into me.
The hard knocks of life smoothed many of my rough edges. I actually found that people’s feelings and the general work environment was important. I was also introduced to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, which was the key to changing how I viewed life. There are many great personality type assessments, but I do continue to recommend that if you want to learn how the people around you work, learn to see and understand personality through MBTI.
I also found that my driving personality led me to lead many organizations. I also learned that that according to MBTI statistics only 1.7 percent of the world is like me, and that is quite enough. There are 16 personality types, and I truly believe every one of them is put here to make the world work.
- Find Out Who You’re Mentoring. Every person you know is a whole world inside themselves different from anyone else. Each person’s dream—their vision of the world as they want it to be—is etched deeply within them and is waiting to come out and propel their lives in the direction to make their life worthwhile—to give it meaning.
Ask questions, delve and share. Find out who the person is that you’re mentoring. This is the foundation of mentoring. Find out their personal history and life journey, as that will tell you volumes about things like:
How important (or unimportant) are promotions to them? What does money mean to them….life-defining or something they just want “enough” of? Do they live to work or work to live? What do they really think about people: Do they have an optimistic or pessimistic view of people in general?
- Mentoring is Teaching a Person How to Navigate Their World. People have an inner world and an outer reality. We are taught the “YouTube-type skills” in school, but there is little teaching about how to navigate the world of organizations that we all share.
We find brilliant people whose careers are cratered by simple things like:
- Do I understand how what I say and do impacts others?
- Do I come through with my part of the project?
- Do I respond to all hands on deck when something goes wrong with the project?
- Do I answer emails?
- Am I respectful?
- Am I a team player?
There are literally hundreds of organizational issues that people are apt to not see—underwater rocks that sink the ship. Your role is to help your mentee to navigate that world.
- Mentoring Should be Based on What Is Happening Now. People learn from what is going on around them, from what they’re doing and how it’s going. In order to be a successful mentor, you need to meet often and base your meetings on what’s happening now—what’s successful and what’s disastrous.
Through those experiences you will help the mentee find a solution for what’s facing them, and internalize general principles that will help them be successful in the future. YOU, as mentor, can be very valuable in helping the distill those general principles, themes and patterns.
You’ve seen many more rodeos than they have and you know what the bucking bull is likely to do. Only the mentee can choose to internalize those principles…to stay with the rodeo metaphor: Only they can stay on that bull and the next one and the next one.
Mentoring will not always be successful. I have worked with several people who actually thought that changing their decision-making styles and personal styles was actually wrong. You need to fnd out quickly if the person you’re working with can be mentored and if they can change.
Successfully mentoring a person is one of life’s greatest rewards. You may never have your name on a street sign—and who cares—but your mentoring will change a life that will influence many others.
You’ll be that person they have in mind when they are in the role of mentor and say, “You know, years ago my mentor told me this and I’ve never forgotten it.” And that’s a pretty great thing…way better than your name on a street sign.