Thursday, December 3, 2020
By Cameron Papp
Let’s play a game. I’ll try to write some career growth tips without using the words “pandemic” or “Covid.”
Well, these “recent times” have caused a lot of us to look inward. Am I growing? Am I making an impact on the world—or at least—my community?
I wasn’t asking any of these questions back in 2016 when I signed up to become a Big Brothers Big Sisters mentor. I had just moved to New York and I was just looking to meet new people and “get involved.” I’m sure I had some selfish inner reason to volunteer—to feel better about myself, too.
Perhaps that selfishness worked out because as much as I would like to hope that I’ve helped my mentee grow, I found that our roles are generally reversed. He’s helped me grow much more—and not only as a person, but as a career professional, too.
If you’re thinking about becoming a mentor, whether through a nonprofit program, your current job, or just part of your normal day-to-day, there can be life-changing benefits to it. For the purpose of this post, I’m going to focus on the benefits that I have found from mentorship from a career perspective.
What is mentorship?
First, I want to get across what mentorship is not:
- Mentorship is not about you.
- It is not about making yourself look good in front of your colleagues and friends.
- It is not a vanity project that you slap on your resume or use for LinkedIn.
- It is not a mechanism to show off your expertise. In fact, a good mentor can be perfectly effective NOT being an expert.
While mentorship is not a “me first” endeavor, there are numerous personal benefits you will gain from becoming a mentor. The following are are four important benefits that I have found from a career perspective:
1. You start to think more strategically
As a mentor, you start to become more reflective and think about “why” you do things the way you do. Studies have shown that the most effective way to learn something is to teach it to someone else. You start to think about the way you react to certain situations. And then, upon reflection, you’ll decide if that is the path you would recommend to your mentee, or perhaps you’ll offer them a better way based on your mistakes.
2. You become more than just a good listener
Mentoring is less about talking and more about listening. You learn that you can’t be a very effective teacher if you’re just talking the whole time. People will eventually tune you out. Once you start to realize this from a mentoring perspective, you learn this is even more important in the business world.
When I first started having my weekly calls with my mentee, I was terrified. “What am I going to talk about? What if I don’t have anything to say,” I wondered. Indeed, the early conversations were a bit one-way. But over time, I realized all I really needed to do was listen—and I mean really listen. That means being present, focused, and attentive.
You will be amazed by how much you can learn and be helpful to someone at the same time by just listening. I learned this from mentoring and I’ve started to practice it in my daily work life as well. My meetings have become much more productive.
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3. You become a better problem solver
Mentoring really just comes down to honing in on your expertise to offer advice to someone else. This doesn’t mean you are necessarily the ultimate authority with all the right answers. It means you are looking back on your past experiences and leveraging them to accomplish something. This is problem-solving 101.
4. You build leadership skills
Maybe you haven’t yet been in a managerial role, but you will when you’re a mentor. All of a sudden, there is someone asking you for advice on how you would handle certain situations. There is something about this that triggers your brain to think in a different way. You stop thinking only about “just doing” and start thinking about “leading.”
One day, my mentee mentioned that he wasn’t getting along with a teacher and wanted to know what he should do about it. I asked if he had talked to his teacher about what he was struggling with? He said no. Then I remembered a quote attributed to George Bernard Shaw: “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”
I told my mentee that he will never solve the problem without communicating what that problem actually is. This made me think about my own issues at work and how I go about solving them. Am I leading by example? Am I giving this same advice to my colleagues?
What does it take to be a leader?
You need to be genuine, positive, and inspire others to be better. When you mentor someone, you are taking a mini-crash course on how to develop these qualities. Once you start to do this through your experience with your mentee, you will develop the skills necessary to do so with your colleagues as well.