How Changing Your Assumptions Will Make You a Better Mentor


What does a mentor do?

Mentoring programs vary from organization to organization.  Some places implement a formalized program where nearly everyone has a mentor, which is formally assigned by the company.

In other, more casual instances, an organization may implement a mentoring program and encourage people in the organization to seek someone out to be their mentor.  No formal assignments are made. Employees are encouraged to serve as mentors if sought out by someone for that role.

In most cases, it is implied that it is a one-on-one monogamous relationship where an older and wiser person within the organization takes a younger one under his or her wing.  Older-wiser shares their experience and knowledge with the younger one and is always available for questions.

That can certainly work. But it doesn’t tell the whole story.

Many people – mentor and mentee alike – are confused by the mentoring process, particularly when it is too formalized.

So many questions for a mentor

If a company decides that ten-year veteran Ann should mentor the new college graduate employee Ryan a number of questions come to mind.

  • Is Ann given any direction on what Ryan needs mentoring for?
  • Does Ann ask Ryan what areas he wants to learn to get his career off on the right track?
  • Does Ryan know what to even ask?
  • If Ryan has a few years of experience, does Ann know where his strengths and weaknesses lie in order to give good advice?
  • What if Ryan has some knowledge that he could teach to Ann?
  • What if Ann doesn’t have the right knowledge or background to complement Ryan’s needs?

Assuming it is a monogamous relationship, the older-on-younger model can limit the relationship for both parties.  Instead, by stepping outside of that box and asking what the purpose of the mentor is, we can change the existing mindset and approach it a little differently.

For more information, check out How to Mentor for Maximum Benefit

What Does a Mentor Do?

At its very basic element, a mentor teaches. There are no assumptions about age or specific mentor assignments.

So what if we did the following:

  • Everybody you meet is a potential mentor.  If you ask someone in your office a question and she answers your question.  She is a mentor, if only for the few minutes she spent answering your question.
  • If that same person comes to you the very next day and asks you a different question, you will be a mentor right back to her if you answer it.
  • When you’re trying to figure out what all the frenzy is about Snapchat, you might ask the twenty-four year old employee in your department.  If she spends a few minutes explaining how it works and helping you set up an account, that twenty-four year old woman has been your mentor for those few minutes.

Related blog: The One-on-one: Two-way Feedback

Too often, we get caught up in assumptions and prejudices about who should mentor and how they should mentor.  If everyone treated everyone else as a potential mentor and freely asked questions based on knowledge and experience rather than age or some formal mentoring status, a lot more knowledge could change hands.

The result could be a much more knowledgeable workforce.

If you would like to learn more about mentoring between Millennials and Baby Boomers, get Lew and Jeff’s book The Reluctant Mentor on Amazon.

As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.

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