Why mentor someone? Everyone is busy. No one boasts about having too much time on their hands. Yet people offer their time, energy, insights and knowledge to others — often complete strangers. These strangers reach out to connect and offer up their best selves to help someone else.
It seems odd perhaps, in a world that emphasizes networking (even speed-networking), to consider the exact opposite — taking the time to truly get to know someone well enough to provide meaningful support. Wanting to give someone advice is easy; you see a problem and you think, “I know how to fix it.” Offering advice is easy too, especially if you aren’t really responsible for the outcome. Authentic mentoring, on the other hand, takes time — quality time — and your commitment to stay connected.
Mentoring is unique; it’s different from life coaching, executive coaching, therapy, and consulting. Each of these options can provide tremendous benefits. But money changes everything — our expectations and the dynamics of any relationship. As a mentor, you are offering yourself — one person to one person. Yes, there is always opportunity for mutual benefit; and this is usually the case with good mentor matches. But an authentic mentor places the emphasis on the person they are mentoring, not the next billable hour, next client referral, or even the drive to reach a specific achievement.
A mentor is there first and foremost to provide support — a deeper leverage point. It takes a real relationship to feel any significant level of support, to encourage real change. That entails getting together often, maybe weekly, for six months or a year. You’re there as the conversation deepens and the topics become more complex. You’re helping someone overcome obstacles and make real progress.
At it’s best, I believe a mentor serves as a role model for being open minded, building trust, and being authentic. This mirrors the teachings from a two-day Mindful Leadership retreat I attended early this month. Bill George, Harvard Business professor and former CEO of Medtronic, and Yongey Mingur Rinpoche, a Buddhist monk, lead discussions about emotional intelligence, happiness, compassion, active listening, self-actualization, building trust — all essential components of authentic mentoring.
Bill George was quite frank, remarkably open during his interactions with us. In front of 400 people, he was striving to walk his talk. He was vulnerable and acknowledged his greatest fear: “becoming obsolete.” At first glance, it might be easy to discount his “vulnerability,” since he has been so successful and still has a great deal of influence. But that is precisely why he was so intriguing to me. My experience with successful business people has been that it is too risky for them to remove the mask in public, even slightly, and admit their weaknesses, mistakes, or fears.
George admitted to being impatient and a host of other shortcomings, all leading up to his currently held belief in self-knowledge and self-control, which he said are important if we are to truly lead others. He went further, stating that we need to move beyond the use of our minds (which he said may be overvalued in our society) and use our hearts as well. This was clearly not your typical left-brain, command and control leadership approach, of which George declared, “It is dead,” or dying, and enlisted us to “help him kill it!”
So how do we become better leaders, better mentors in a world where authenticity is not the norm? I think one of the best ways to accomplish this is for all of us to become authentic mentors. Lead by example. Start changing. Increase EQ (vs. IQ): increase emotional intelligence through self-awareness. Be open and vulnerable. Share your life story — your successes and failures. Allow others to learn from our entire range of experiences not just our success. We’re all human. None of us live perfect lives or can give “perfect advice.” But we can show up with that rare ingredient — authenticity — so we are better equipped to offer thoughtful counsel.
It is tough taking a chance on someone, to seek a mentor to ask for guidance, particularly if they are perceived to have no weakness, no heart. Keep in mind that the person you are mentoring is constantly asking: “Can I trust this person?” As we allow others to see our authentic self, they are more likely to trust us, to open up and tell us the truth — about their real issues, deeper problems. This way we can offer more than a quick-fix or bad advice. Instead we’re more likely to probe further, listen more, and help someone think through their situations for more meaningful action.
I know that the more I mentor others, the more critically I evaluate myself and learn more about what’s important to me. I take mentoring quite seriously even though I fall short at times. Was I actively listening or running other projects through my head as we were talking? Was I trying too hard to solve the problem quickly rather than asking better questions? Was I giving feedback in a way they would hear it or was I merely being efficient? Did they see me consider their feedback to me in a way that showed I took it to heart? Nothing is more important to me than connecting with someone on what matters most to them. It is an honor that another person opens up to me, sharing their dreams and fears.
I hope you’ll be inspired to mentor someone. You don’t need to be a superstar or a former CEO, just someone who is willing to share their hard-earned experience and real-world insights. If you’re interested in becoming a mentor, please contact me. MentorPlanet.com is getting ready to launch. I hope you’ll be a part of it. So send me an email and I’ll send you the details. I already have profiles on lots of people that are looking for mentors. Mentors Wanted!
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