Did you know that January is National Mentoring Month here in the U.S.? (Yep, there is a National Month or Day for almost everything!) The month is dedicated to focusing on supporting the positive growth and development of young people to help them become successful adults.
As a person who spends her days in the working world, it makes sense to me that since January is the time to set goals for how you will develop yourself and your team during this year, it’s also a great time for adults to be thinking about finding a professional mentor. Adding mentoring to formal education and training can be a catalyst for remarkable change.
A mentor in the professional realm is someone who provides advice rooted in experience with no expectation of anything in return. However, mentors do reap the internal reward that comes with helping another person learn and grow.
Mentoring is an ancient concept. The concept dates all the way back to the time of apprentices, when a wise business owner or tradesperson took an inexperienced person under his/her wing to groom them for the business or trade they were in.
Mentoring relationships have evolved naturally in businesses and organizations for as long as people have worked together. Common sense tells us that in order to have a fruitful relationship, there needs to be mutual respect and admiration between the two individuals. Without it, the relationship doesn’t last, and the individuals don’t flourish. So, when people naturally gravitate toward others based on this, it’s often the best kind of mentorship.
One of my first professional mentors was a boss. I didn’t ask her to mentor me, and she didn’t offer. But sharing was in her nature and since I was part of her team, she had an inherent motivation for me to succeed. I felt supported, valued, and like I could go to her for anything. I wouldn’t have called it mentoring at the time, but in hindsight, that is exactly what it was. It was key to my growth as an HR professional.
By the mid-1990s, it was common in larger organizations to find structured mentoring programs. Many are still in place today. The company matches up mentors and mentees and provides training and support to ensure the relationship is successful.
These programs are designed to attract new employees, develop leaders, and to improve the satisfaction levels of current employees thereby leading to greater retention. Based on the desired goal, a program is tailored to meet that outcome with typically mixed results.
Over twenty years later, today’s mentoring relationships have taken on a new look and feel. Let’s explore what’s evolved.
- Relationships are driven by the mentee. Accountability is the key factor of success in formal and informal mentoring programs. When the individual who is being developed has 100% ownership, resistance is minimal or non-existent. The person’s clear desire for support, action taken towards finding it, and their openness to receiving advice is the secret formula for success!
- The individuals are physically remote. Many mentors never meet in person and definitely don’t work side by side. Several of my current business mentors are individuals who I never see and only reach out to occasionally with specific needs for advice. With the explosion of connection tools such as LinkedIn, Facebook, etc., there are very few barriers to finding someone who knows what you want to know.
- Mentors and mentees may not know each other. As an entrepreneur, many of my mentors are experts who share their expertise via YouTube videos, podcasts, and blogs. Because I listen to their words of wisdom regularly and over a span of time, I feel like I know them. It was actually one of them that pointed out the fact that mentors can be people you’ve never met!
- Multiple mentors are common. Because of the first three items, it is now common to have many people that one may consider his/her mentor. Some may be structured as traditional mentor relationships, while others are informal, ad hoc mentors.
- Mentors are found in front, beside, and behind. Anyone who has experience with something you’re struggling with can be a mentor. This is not limited to someone who is significantly older than you or has more years in the business. It may be someone much less experienced than you in your field, but they might be more seasoned in a particular area. My son often serves as my technology mentor! Peers also make great mentors.
Mentorship is sure to continue to transform even more in the future, but the basic concept will likely always be with us. As humans, we are hard-wired to connect with and help each other.
Your Turn to Mentor Today
As a leader of people, businesses, and organizations, provide the value of mentorship and take time this month to share your experiences with those who rely on you for support. Encourage them to seek mentors as a way to develop themselves in a more focused way.
You can also feel the rewards of being a mentor by sharing your current or past mentoring experiences in the comment section below so that others may learn from you!
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