How to be a Mentor Without Really Trying

Blog Feb 12th

I’ve always thought that there wasn’t much to add to the world about the merits of being a mentor.

We know mentors have real value in today’s workplace. We all want to pay it forward but often we worry about the time commitment. I am a firm believer you can be a mentor without really trying. It means that you do what is right as a way of life. My very first mentor was this way. My dad. When I was a kid, I loved business. Not in the way that those wiz-kid, app-inventor types do today, but old-fashioned, problem-solving business.

My dad, a textile executive, used to come home after a long day tired and hungry. Frankly, the last thing he wanted to do was talk to a 10-year-old about the trials of his day. But I was interested and asked questions. And he answered them, not as if he was talking with a kid, but as if he was sharing his point of view with a peer. He even asked my opinion once in a while. When I turned 16, he encouraged me to shadow the one woman he knew in the textile business. She didn’t sit down with me for a “mentoring session” but just watching the way she was — her unapologetic walk as she entered a room full of sales guys as the only woman — that was enough for me to learn a big lesson about presence in the workplace.

Since then, most every day has been a lesson. Some from executives, some from friends, and others from strangers. The best lessons came when the person wasn’t “teaching,” but just doing.

With that in mind, here are some ways to be a mentor without trying:

  • Step out and make someone better. Share information easily. Don’t get consumed by holding ideas close and worrying about credit. As a result, people will always want to support you.
  • Take the time to listen and ask questions. Sometimes not giving the answer, but asking a person the right questions, helps them discover the answers for themselves, building confidence on both sides.
  • Encourage risks, every day. Some people save risk taking for a momentous occasion. There are ways to take small risks every day: like encouraging a co-worker to speak up in a meeting or to raise her hand for a new project.
  • Tell the truth. Give feedback, good and bad, kindly but honestly.  You will be known for having integrity and character.
  • Laugh easily. The friend who takes time out of her day to distract you and help keep perspective, is a friend for life. Be the same for others.

And here’s the thing: as you progress in your career, you get as much joy and energy from sharing that spirit with those around you. And maybe it’s less about teaching the rules of the road, but about spending each day being generous with your ideas and your time. Living your life by naturally supporting the advancement of others is the very thing that makes you the kind of professional people want to be around…and the rewards are endless.

One comment

  1. I like your thoughts on how to be a mentor without even trying, especially your point about listening and asking questions.

    I’m really lucky to have a mentor for over 10 years and what I find tremendously valuable is that he always set aside time to listen to me share about my challenges and instead of trying to recommend solutions, he will ask me tough questions to challenge my assumptions and often help me get a new perspectives on the issue.

    Will love to have more mentors like him helping other youths like myself learn and grow 🙂

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