A simple internet search on the word “mentor” will find the above image, from Homer’s Odyssey. When Odysseus did not return home after the Trojan War, his son, Telemachus, searched for him, accompanied by the goddess Athena disguised as his childhood teacher and guardian, Mentor (you can read more here). The same internet search will also find a ton of how-to articles and websites. But here is what mentoring means to me, and why I think you should give it a try:
Paying it forward: yes, absolutely, mentoring is a feel-good. You are paying it forward by freely sharing your expertise and your time. When I was president of APRA Wisconsin, I wrote a whole column in our newsletter about the philanthropy inherent in sharing and teaching. I still feel strongly that a passion for working in the philanthropic sector must include service. (I feel just as strongly that it doesn’t mean working for poverty wages, but that’s a soap-box I won’t climb onto here.)
Seeing through new eyes: when I taught high school in the last millennium, discussing literature (yes – that included the Odyssey) through ever-changing points of view was one of my greatest joys. Something similar happens in a great mentoring relationship, one which crosses skill sets and generations. The give and take of the best mentoring relationships should give you the opportunity to re-examine how you’ve always done things. A new generation brings new ideas, and together, with your different skills, points of view, and assumptions, you may just come up with a new and better way of doing something. The problems they need solving may be ones you haven’t thought about for years, or they may be ones you never would have foreseen. You may just head down a path neither of you could have found on your own.
Polishing your skills: there is nothing like teaching someone else to help you sharpen your own skills. Obviously, you will want to be at the top of your game for the sake of your “mentee” (and, oh, how I hate that word – but I don’t like protégé either), and for the sake of your own personal pride. However, as you and your mentee work through the challenges they’ve identified, you are likely to learn new skills and relearn dormant ones. You are also likely to need to say “I don’t know” more than once, and then head back to your office to figure things out before you meet again. But beyond the honing of specific technical skills, mentoring also gives you the opportunity to work on your “soft” skills in a friendly room: leadership, presenting, training, project management, as well as eye-contact, modulating your voice, and learning which clichés fall flat.
So when you think about mentoring, give yourself permission to be a little selfish in your approach to service. Because you will get back so much more than you give.
*I’ve heard (most recently from Josh Birkholz at the APRA Illinois data analytics conference at Loyola on Oct. 3rd), that one of the ways to attract readers to your content is to lead with a number. I thought I’d give it a shot.