We've all had mentors growing up but don't often think about our own transitions to becoming a mentor. When freshly stepping into any role there can be a lot of wasted effort. In this post, I'd like to share a couple of insights to help make that transition smoother.
Learn About A Person's Past Mentors
In both jobs I work at I get to interview candidates for available positions. One of my favorite questions to write is "We’ve all had mentors to help us grow in life, can you tell me about a valued mentor, and how they impacted your life?" I love the question because it's so universal. We ask it of all the candidates and the responses are perfectly helpful to make an informed decision.
First, it's important to remember that the job interview's purpose is to close the gap between what you already know about an applicant from their resume/LinkedIn etc. to what you don't know. The questions are supposed to be revealing enough to close that knowledge gap. In response to this question, an applicant will usually tell about a time when they were humbled and overcame the obstacle in their life. In their narrative, they usually reveal the situation, the challenge, the mentor's attributes, and the plan of action to overcome the obstacle. This provides me with several key insights to distinguish the applicant among the others applying.
Firstly, I get to understand what work environments they've been in in the past. Secondly, I get to see what sort of situations they've found challenging. Then I get to learn what type of mentorship they respond to and how much effort they put into overcoming the challenge. Calling someone a mentor who does the work for you isn't mentorship. Mentorship is the process to increase the person's capacity to overcome their own struggles.
We don't often choose when we enter the mentorship role. It's one of those things in life that's thrust upon us. How do you know you're mentoring? When someone asks for help and you're the person who responds.
Know How to Read People & Ask Questions
That request for help will sometimes be overt and other times it'll appear in a person's body language. You can see people physically struggling with their responsibilities. Whether they need external help or not asking them what's going on will help them communicate their challenges so they can create their own solutions. This is probably the most cost-effective mentoring situation. Too bad that's not the only way life happens.
It's Not Your Job To Do The Work
I've seen plenty of young mentors be asked for help and want to help and end up doing the work for the person needing the assistance. While there is a time and a place to step down and be a catalyst, that style of response can become a slippery slope that doesn't lead to the person being more capable going forward. Generally, it leads to burn out.
You're Always Mentoring
Jacqueline Van Pelt, PMP recently shared some of the insights she's garnered from her mentors over the years. One of them was the idea that each interaction with people is like training a horse. Either you're training them or their training you, but there's never not a moment where training doesn't occur.
Develop Your Style
Since every situation involves some amount of learning and from different levels, mentoring is likely occurring from multiple levels as well. This means that everyone has or will be a mentor. It's not a rare occurrence. It's a common one. The lack of mentoring isn't for a lack of possibilities. In my opinion, it's because we aren't taking the time to develop our style.
Like anything else developing one's mentorship style follows the same learning pattern as many other things in life. You need to increase your awareness of the subject, evaluate the available information, and incorporate the parts that allow us to improve. Some part of this process should feel like you're doing it the hard way.
My own style has developed the hard way over many years. I can see mentoring opportunities on a daily basis and leverage them to help others confidently move to the next step in their development. Somewhere along the way I've moved past the point where I just help them through their challenge. Now, when I interact with others I work to help them through their challenge in a way to make it memorable for when they need to mentor the next generation.