I’ve had more than one conversation on the topic of mentoring in the past couple of weeks, starting with the Lisa Eggerton talk they had at work. The general consensus is that “mentor” is rather off-putting for lots of people. When someone asks to be your mentor, you start to imagine having to have regular meetings on top of your already busy day, think of ways to build up this other person, and scariest of all, be wise at all costs! After all, you’re a mentor!
No one’s ever asked me to be a mentor, which makes sense, because I’m not a high-powered executive and haven’t been for a long time. In fact, my career path is headed in a pretty downward direction right now. But, does that mean I don’t mentor people? Nope, not at all.
The consensus among the women I’ve been talking to about mentoring is that it actually works better on an informal basis. When someone comes to you and tells you they’ve got a thorny problem to deal with and asks your advice, you’re mentoring them. And when a colleague gives you an insight into how you can do something better, that was being mentored. Not so scary. No one was under any (imagined) pressure to be wise and pithy, just to be helpful.
Thinking back, most of my mentors didn’t set out to mentor me at all; they just lived their lives ethically, kindly, and insightfully. I just watched, listened, learned, and asked a few questions. I didn’t formally ask, “Will you be my mentor?” like we were going to go steady (or however they put it now). (Thanks to Doc, Georgia, Steve, Roberta, Hedy, Mike, and Craig, to name a few who may have no idea they were mentors.)
And now, I do find colleagues asking me questions, often in my managerial role, where I give them pointers and ideas for doing their jobs better. I think that’s the most important role of a people manager: to help people grow in their jobs, find work they enjoy, and be productive. So, yay, I’m a mentor, too.
Sure, formal mentorship programs have their place, and there are some good ones where I work and in other workplaces. But, don’t think that you can’t serve as a mentor if you’re not a manager or if you’re “just” a friend. When we talk to each other, ask good questions, and really listen, we’ll find mentors everywhere we look!
Take advantage of your opportunities to both learn and teach others. It’s a good plan. Thanks to the coworkers who helped me think about this!