How Has Mentoring Others Grown You?

We’ve all had mentors. And whether or not you’ve ever held an official title of “mentor,” all of us have at one point or another served as a mentor for others. If you’re a parent, mentoring is intrinsically woven into your daily life – even as your child becomes an adult in their own right. Perhaps for you it has taken the form of micro-mentoring, teaching someone a skill that you feel comfortable with. Maybe you manage a team, in which case mentoring may be a part of your job responsibilities. Or perhaps you coach soccer as a weekend activity, and fit into the role of mentor there.

What does that kind of mentoring do to you – the mentor? Have some experiences felt more meaningful than others? Why? A recent Harvard Business Review article by David Nour introduces the term Transformational Mentorship to describe a relationship that is powerful for both mentee and mentor – and it requires an equal amount of dedication and work from both participants. Such a relationship is symbiotic. Rather than defaulting to the traditional teacher/student roles, transformational mentorship takes place when both mentor and mentee “build a relaxed, inspiring camaraderie, driven by curiosity.” Wondering together how to solve a real-world ‘live’ problem – rather than the mentor simply challenging the mentee with a problem they can already solve – calls forth the mentee’s skills rather than relying on rote parroting of the mentor’s own skills. Underlying that, it calls the mentor to humility, and shows belief in the mentee. And in the modern work world, novel solutions are as valuable as old solutions – you may be surprised by the ideas a mentee brings to a problem. As another HBR article puts it, mentorship is no longer a one-way street.

The HBR piece gives the example of Albert Einstein’s relationship with Werner Heisenberg and Niels Bohr. For many years, the three physicists met and corresponded, but “[t]hey didn’t often debate or advance a specific view; they weren’t trying to one-up each other. Instead, they proposed ideas, asked questions, offered thoughts, and supported each other’s seemingly wild notions.” Together they held a relationship of transformational mentorship that served them all well.

In a future article we’ll look at how you might find new mentoring relationships, but this week, let’s reflect on the mentoring relationships you’re currently in.

This Week’s Tip:

Take some time to make note of the mentoring relationships you’re currently in, and consider how you might move them toward a place of ‘transformational mentorship’.

  1. In situations where you’re the mentor: How can you begin to build a partnership based on curiosity? What’s a real-world ‘live’ problem could you work on with your mentee? When you do, you may find yourself challenged as their ideas clash with your own ideas for how to move forward. How can you ensure that you’re calling out and valuing your mentee’s contributions?
  2. In situations where you’re the mentee: Ask if your mentor could talk through some of the real-world ‘live’ problems they’re working on. Look for openings or invitations to share your input – then ask for permission before offering your thoughts. If your thoughts feel too obvious, acknowledge that! – “My first thought feels too obvious, so perhaps you could help me understand the complexities at play here.” You may find that your mentoring relationship becomes transformational very quickly, or it may take some time, but if it doesn’t happen at all, not to worry – there is no shortage of mentorship opportunities in your life!

Try this out this week and let us know how it goes in our Facebook group – we’d love to hear what you learn about yourself and others as you do.

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Published by Ian Jackson

Ian Jackson is the founder of Building Bridges Leadership, which works with individuals, teams, and organizations to create authentic community in the workplace. He also writes children's fiction and teaches creative writing.

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