Many advanced professionals shy away from mentoring. However, mentoring is a way you can build your professional profile while helping people at all levels of their careers.
Take on a Mentor Role
Whatever your career, you have probably sat back and sized up the new additions to your team at staff meetings. Sometimes they might be bright-eyed twenty-two-year-olds straight out of college. Other times it's someone who has changed careers in mid-life, or even a mother returning to work after staying home to raise her children. In any case, you probably wonder if they are going to make it past their period of probation. The reality is that it takes experienced professionals to help new colleagues succeed. Becoming a mentor is a proven way for you to help them succeed and at the same time continue your own professional development.
Mentors in the Workplace
When you initially think about the role of a mentor, you probably have a lot of misconceptions. You might even visualize yourself sitting with a cup of coffee, imparting your wisdom to a young professional and having them soak up every word you say. Mentors do so much more, which is how they grow their professional skills as they work with a mentee.
Put on Your Coaching Hat
To be a successful mentor, you have to develop leadership skills and apply those to a variety of situations. Mentors wear lots of different hats. Sometimes you will be a coach sent to mentor new skills in your mentee. Other times, you may be an informal mentor and help your colleague develop reflective practice in their work. However, to instill these skills in others, you need to hone them in yourself.
Professional Relationships are Career Opportunities
In any career path, you and your mentee need the skills to build relationships to be effective in your jobs. Those relationships could be with government agencies, suppliers, etc. As you learn to build a relationship with your mentee, you hone your skills to build relationships with others. Those relationships can help elevate the quality of work from those around you because you can have more honest communication about all of the details of a project. Solid relationships enhance the efficiency with which the work gets done and the quality of the final product.
Think about it from your boss or supervisor's perspective for a minute. Let's say that they are putting together a team for a special project. Who would you want on that team? Is it the person who struggles to work with others, and so communication and quality suffer? Or is it the person who can work with anyone, and uses relationships to efficiently build a final product? The latter is usually the case in any type of work environment.
Learn to be a Good Mentor
Your boss may assign you to be a mentor to a colleague, but that doesn't necessarily mean you will be good at it right off the bat. Becoming a good mentor requires a lot of knowledge that you may not have picked up in any professional development experiences you have had so far. So, training is critical to honing the necessary skills. Depending on the size of your company, they may or may not offer you training. You may even be asked to mentor people not in your place of business through professional associations you belong to. Depending on the type of mentee you work with, you will build different skillsets.
Mentorship Can Empower Your Career
Think of mentoring as a mutually beneficial relationship. In whatever areas you help your mentee build in their own career, there is a corresponding benefit to your own. For example, you may be mentoring a person completely new to the profession. In this case, you will need skills to help them adapt to what is perhaps their first real job in their career path. The mentoring conversations probably revolve around topics such as career planning, teaching your mentee skills to impress your superiors, and general confidence building.
By mentoring those new to your field, you enhance your own reputation. As your mentee grows in their own career, you are demonstrating your leadership skills to your superiors. You become the team member with the reputation for team building; you have the knowledge to coach teams to success. Who wouldn't want that reputation at their job?
The needs of a mid-career mentee are a bit different. People who have worked ten or so years in their field require more advanced guidance. You may need to learn how to help them network with other professionals in your field. It could even be that they need a mentor to help them develop a portfolio of work so that they can use it as a springboard to advance their career. Other times, it may be someone who is making significant career changes mid-life.
Helping your mentee network can be beneficial to you as well. For example, as you assist your protégé in building a professional network, you enhance yours as well. It could be by strengthening existing professional relationships you already have. However, more than likely you will expand your own personal network as you help your mentee build their own. After all, odds are you don't know everyone in your field. Your mentee may have different interests than your own, so you won't just be introducing them to all of your contacts. Think about it: whose career wouldn't benefit from expanding their own network?
Leadership Skills Help You Stand Out
Whatever mentoring style you use, mentoring requires you to build and reinforce your professional knowledge. If your role is more of an educator, you have to build skills to teach that knowledge effectively to another person. Sometimes your role may be to challenge your mentee to come up with new ideas and think outside the box. In any case, becoming a mentor can be the next step in your professional development.
Ready to become a mentor?
Take the Business 209: Mentoring & Leadership Development in the Workplace course accredited for upper-division college credit.