I am at a new stage in my career. I have recently transitioned from a mentee to a mentor. It was surprising when I got my first request a few years ago to be a mentor.
First, I felt unworthy. I still rely heavily on my team of mentors to help me through sticky situations. Am I ready to be that support structure for someone else?
I said yes to that mentor request because I owe so much to the many mentors who have helped me through my career path. Perhaps, my mentors also have felt unworthy when they first were asked to mentor? I am guessing in an effort to pay it forward, they took the leap to mentor.
As I reflected on what I could offer as a mentor, I looked back on the key elements of my best mentors to shape my approach:
1. Tough conversations: They never sugarcoated their advice. They told me what I needed to hear without worrying about my feelings. Finding mentors outside of my organization gave my mentor the freedom to be honest. I took that honesty to heart to change my perspective or approach to tough situations.
2. Seeing my blind spots: Often my mentors opened my eyes to things I just did not see. One mentor gave me some very candid advice when I asked him for insight on seeking a promotion early in my career. He said, “You are young and you are a woman. You have those two things against you. If you go into the conversation recognizing that, you will do fine.” This was not something I had in mind when I was prepping for my interview. He was right. The person I would be replacing was a 60-year-old man. My mentor helped me to see that blind spot.
3. Overcoming my weakness: I always have made a point to have a mentor in an area in which I don’t excel. Financial statements put me to sleep. Having a mentor in finance has helped me see things from their perspective, provided valuable coaching and compensated for my deficiencies. When looking for a mentor, seek someone who loves a job that you could never do, yet they have leadership qualities you admire. They will make you stronger and help you understand their perspective.
I have put these three elements of my best mentors into my own mentorship approach. As I bridge from mentee to mentor, these key factors made the time I spent with my mentors effective and valuable:
1. Don’t wait and be prepared: If you think having a mentor might benefit your career, don’t wait for them to find you. The best leaders don’t offer, but they do the right thing when asked to be a mentor. Make the mentorship easy for them. Arrange the meetings when it works for their schedule. Come prepared with key topics to discuss.
2. Make inspiration seeking a habit: Whether it’s a podcast, book or short articles on leadership, soak it up. Seeking these sources and carving the time to read or listen will make growth in this area a habit. The concept of “building your personal board of directors” came from some of this inspiration seeking and drove home the importance of having mentors.
3. Be open to continuous improvement: Be ready for tough conversations, to see your blind spots and to work on overcoming your weaknesses.
Being a mentee isn’t always easy, but it’s a priceless investment in professional development. Then, when the future comes and you are asked to mentor, get over feeling unworthy. Reflect on your mentors and offer the best of them to the next generation of leaders.
Jennifer Owens is president of Lakeshore Advantage.