Five years ago, alongside my coaching and supervision practice, I entered the mentoring field by launching a cross-organizational Mentoring Program for Leaders “Coaching+”. The mission of the program is to raise quality of leadership by promoting development of leaders and equipping them with a unique set of skills required by today’s organisations.
The programme promotes values-based leadership by celebrating people and focuses on leaders’ strengths, potential and areas for development over a six-month period.
Working with groups of leaders over the years, I have found that mentoring relationship provides a transformational experience for both mentees and mentors. However, from time to time I encounter confusion, or questions from people around me. Even though they understand the mentee’s interest in getting a mentor – it allows to strengthen competences, get the support of a more experienced leader to further career or business goals, but they don’t really understand the leader’s motivation for being a mentor?
- Isn’t it true that people need to make their own mistakes?
- All my mistakes are an investment. Why should I put younger competition on the fast lane by sharing everything for free?
And indeed – it is a role that is most often unpaid, as it would be the case in a typical manager situation. In addition, mentoring is an investment of time, intellectual and emotional resources that could very well be directed towards solving one’s own challenges, rather than focusing on the mentee and his or her dilemmas. So, what then is it, that motivates a leader to be a mentor? The fact that many leaders choose to be mentors and do it voluntarily show that money is not a motivator in their situation. So, then what is?
Let’s look at the main benefits of mentoring, which serve as motivators not only to try mentoring, but also for choosing it as a life role.
In all ages there have been masters and disciples; teachers and students; mentors and mentees. Collaborations based on a two-way relationship, where one person wants to acquire knowledge and skills and the other wants to pass on his or her mastery or wisdom.
I think almost everyone can relate to the situation where you would be grateful to have a more experienced person/mentor by your side at some point in life to guide, encourage and support you when you face some challenges in life or career path. Or, you might wonder why no one told me before… when I first got into certain situations or roles.
In fact, this may be one of the reasons why someone becomes a mentor, or may choose this role in the future, to support and strengthen their followers protecting them from similar experiences. Or, those who had a mentor and they realise how important those conversations were for their own growth and career development, they may wish to take this significant role in other people’s lives.
In addition, at some point in their lives, people may realise the value and richness of their experiences and lessons learned, so they may decide to either write a book or become a mentor to share their experiences. It gives a kind of sense of worth – a feeling that your experience has not been in vain and you have a possibility to leave something behind while doing something meaningful for others – people, organizations, society.
But sharing is not just good for those you help; it’s good for you as well. Roman philosopher Seneca once said, “when we teach, we learn.”
In other words, if you want to get better at something, the best way to learn is to teach someone else turning it to mentoring process. All mentors when finishing the Mentoring program for Leaders have admitted that being a mentor has contributed to their own development as a leader. Even more – When I asked mentors who is learning more in this program – mentors or mentees – I’ve got immediate answer “Of course we, the mentors, learn more!”. And it happens due to several reasons: Firstly, when you listen your mentee’s stories and challenges it is quite natural that you reflect also about your own experience. So, it may turn out while trying to support a mentee with his or her issue you do some kind of inventory of your own life, thus increasing an awareness starting from your daily leadership approach all the way to the values of your life.
Secondly, in mentoring relationship we can observe a strong Protege effect. It is how human psychology works – before explaining some approach or concept to another person you need to refine your own understanding first; or, if you share a list of your tips and tricks of “how to”, for example, motivate other people it requires reviewing of your own experience in that field, it turns your attention to ways how and why you are doing things as you do, what works well and what needs to be changed.
Thirdly, mentoring process is a practice which requires particular skills.
Although it’s used to think about mentoring process as an activity where main focus is on mentees’ development, my experience is quite different in this perspective. In the Mentoring Program for Leaders “Coaching+” we have a strong focus on mentors’ development with a purpose of strengthening their mentoring skills, and through that supporting their mentees and their development. The programme provides mentors with a variety of theoretical concepts and practical tools, but the most important part is implementation of those concepts and tools into practice using the learning by doing approach. Thus, acquiring and strengthening skills that are useful not only in collaboration with a mentee, but also working with people in their own teams. In other words, a mentor role helps leaders to become more aware of themselves as well as to strengthen and finetune their leadership skills.
3. Making an impact
One of the most motivating aspects, which can mostly be experienced in the final mentoring phase, is to see how the mentor and the mentee have made a difference as a result of their collaboration.
It is worthwhile to emphasize – mentoring is the development journey for both, mentor and mentee, which can be immensely rewarding and may open up new horizons through willingness to be vulnerable and openness to be influenced by the other.
Perhaps all that will be of value at the end of life is the resonance we have created around us and the impact we have had on other people. But to come to this realisation requires personal maturity, which, incidentally, is one of the most important competences of a mentor.
So, we can conclude that a mentor needs to be an experienced and mature person, and most likely a good professional in his or her field – be it entrepreneurship, leadership or both. With a willingness to share their experience meanwhile being vulnerable and open to be impacted by the mentee. But even that will not be enough. You will probably agree that not every great player can be a team captain, and in the same way not every captain is a good coach. You need certain skills and abilities to be successful as a mentor. But we’ll get into that another time.
In the meantime, you can ask yourself – if mentoring is not about me, what holds me back? And in case it is for me, – what’s in it for me?