I’m a big proponent of the value of mentoring relationships, and never turn anyone down who wants to enter into a mentoring relationship with me. I would describe a mentor as a more experienced, oftentimes older person investing their time and pouring themselves into the lives of others who are following them on the leadership journey. I do however, think that the mentee/protégé/the one being mentored, needs to drive the relationship, because only they know what they need from their mentor.
My favorite book on mentoring is Tony Dungy’s 2010 book The Mentor Leader: Secrets to Building People and Teams that Win Consistently. Dungy writes that in his life and career he has seen all kinds of leaders, but the ones that had the greatest impact on his life are the select few that have been not only leaders, but also mentors. He states that mentor leaders have a direct, intentional, and positive impact on those they lead. My career mentor was a leader named Mel. I reported to Mel twice early in my career, and as I did, I came to respect him a great deal. Now, many years later, I still do a lot of things based on what and how Mel taught me.
There are many reasons to serve as a mentor. Here are three of them:
- To give back to others. I worked with a leader who was investing time in others by facilitating book clubs. He was very busy, but told me that others had invested in him when he was early in his career and this was one way he was helping to give back. Dungy tells us that the key to creating new generations of leaders is looking beyond yourself toward others – toward those you have been called to lead, and growing them into new leaders through intentional mentoring relationships. He states that it is “about them, not us”. Are you giving back and investing your time in others?
- To learn from others. I remember having a team member who was involved in a “reverse mentoring” relationship. A leader was mentoring them on leadership, and they in turn were mentoring the leader on an IT discipline that the team member had a good deal of knowledge and experience in. It was a win/win situation for both of them. I find the same when I am reading leadership books with mentees. I find that I very much benefit from the insights they bring to the discussion about the book. Have you had experiences in which you not only taught but learned while mentoring others?
- It is an obligation of all leaders. All leaders owe it to those coming behind them in the leadership pipeline to share their experiences with them. Dungy states that the key to becoming a mentor leader is learning how to put other people first. He says that the question that burns in the heart of the mentor leader is “What can I do to make other people better, to make them all that God created them to be?” I take great joy in seeing my mentees move into leadership.
Dungy writes that we all need to realize the platforms that we have and take advantage of the mentoring opportunities they provide. He tells us that it is easy to get wrapped up in our own busy lives, but there are opportunities all around us where we can make a difference in someone’s life – we just need to look for them.
Those pursuing formal leadership positions on my team have multiple mentors, so there is a need for experienced leaders to serve as mentors. What about you? Are you mentoring anyone at this time? Who is in your circle that you can make a lasting difference in their lives? I encourage you to serve as a mentor leader.
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