I was most recently reminded about the importance of mentorship to my personal development when I had a long overdue telephone conversation with someone who had mentored to me.
Terry and I hadn't spoken in close to ten years from my days when I was employed with Service Canada, a department in the Canadian federal government. When we re-connected, it didn't take me very long to remember how much of an impact she had on my growth.
We chatted for over an hour and ended the conversation with a commitment of doing a better job of staying in touch with one another in the future. I immediately began reflecting on our relationship from the moment the phone beeped to signal the call was over.
It was through this thought process I discovered seven key things that made our relationship so worthwhile:
1) Not one sided
A typical mentoring arrangement involves a more experienced or knowledgeable person imparting insights and guidance to someone with less experience.
When Terry and I first met, I was fairly new to government and didn't know very much about bureaucracies or how to navigate through policies and procedures to get the work done.
She had several years of work experience under her belt and had pretty much seen it all before. I, on the other hand was quite comfortable when it came to technology and was always trying to develop systems to help us be more efficient.
This was an area that Terry wasn't as strong in and a way was immediately opened a way for us to learn from one another. I felt as if I was also making a positive contribution to the relationship and not just taking. It was mutually beneficial.
2) Anyone can be your mentor
A mentor doesn't have to be someone in a position of leadership or authority. They definitely have the potential of offering a good learning opportunity but that doesn't necessarily mean that it'll be the best.
While a boss, supervisor or manager can offer a meaningful experience we can gain knowledge or insights from virtually anyone we come in contact with as long as we're open to learning the lesson. This is why I absolutely love the expression,
"Always learn, learn all ways!"
3) Genuine Caring Leads to Authentic Kindness
I don't think its possible to have an effective mentoring relationship if there isn't some level of caring that exists. In my case, I knew right from the onset that Terry was genuinely interested in my well being and wanted the best for me. This was important to know because it allowed me to have complete trust and faith in whatever direction or guidance that came from her.
4) Recognize Greatness
At one point during our conversation, Terry said, "I saw so much potential in you and all I've ever wanted was for you to be a role model to others."
Because mentors have an objective view of things, it's far easier for them to see our individual greatness then for us to recognize it ourselves. Terry not only recognized what I was good at but she also put me in situations where I could maximize skills and build my confidence at the same time.
5) It's a relationship
Being in a mentor/mentee relationship is no different then any other relationship we have in our lives. In the beginning, you've got to commit the time to learn about the other person and understand their likes, dislikes, interests and desires before you can think about trying to help them.
When both sides have a better understanding of each another, the opportunities for growth and development increase. She took the time to understand me and knew how to best help me to succeed.
6) No Structure Needed
There's lots of companies that have structured mentorship programs that come complete with a detailed matching process, a prescribed meeting template and a roles and responsibilities agreement that both sides must adhere to.
While these programs can provide some amazing opportunities for learning and growth, they don't all have to be structured in that fashion. The most lasting mentoring relationships are the ones that have organically developed in the absence of a formalized structured program.
7) Pass it on
Terry eventually moved on to a new position and we stopped working together thus ending our "formal" relationship however we still remained in touch for a bit. I eventually went on to manage a program that gave me an opportunity to mentor more then two dozen young students that were brand new to government over a course of a three year period.
They were all really eager, keen and anxious and I saw a lot of myself in many of them. This compelled me to work hard on creating a positive work experience that supported their learning and development, empowered them to make decisions and offered different viewpoints to help increase their perspective and understanding.
I essentially gave to them what was given to me.
I'm still in contact with many of my past employees today and proud of their professional accomplishments and the type of individuals they've grown to become. I was truly honored this past summer when one of my past "mentees" asked me to MC her wedding.
Knowledge and insight are great things to have but even better when you give it to others. To grow as a leader, you must be prepared to take all of your learnings, lessons and experiences and pass them along to someone else.
Our actions or how we choose to live our lives can serve as mentors to others. In fact, I truly believe that the greatest lessons we learn in life comes from the people around us, thus making the role of the mentor that much more important.
If an opportunity presents itself and you have a chance to be that difference maker to someone else, I would encourage you to step up and embrace the role. Helping someone become better then what they were is a true leadership skill that can have lasting effects.
See you on the court!