Workplace Mentoring Programs Can Make a Difference
I had the great pleasure of seeing my son participate in a local Special Olympics track and field event recently. I even got to be his partner during his 10M assisted walking event. Having never been involved with Special Olympics before, I was deeply moved by how supportive and enthusiastic the participants and spectators were toward all of the athletes. But what really got me thinking was the Special Olympics oath.
Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.
Wow. I admit, I teared up a little when I heard that. Of course we all want to win—it’s human nature to want to succeed. Unfortunately, we can’t all come in first place. But having these athletes acknowledge this and strive for courage when attempting to win is profound, especially given some of the physical limitations these individuals have.
It made me wonder what mentoring relationships would look like if we used a similar oath for them. Let me be brave in the attempt. Can you imagine saying that to your mentee or mentor? What restrictions could you remove from yourself if you approached your relationship with the knowledge that you may fail, but you will still try? It could be groundbreaking.
Having the courage to admit your flaws, identify your weaknesses, pursue your hidden dreams, and tackle the things that scare you most can take a mentoring relationship to an entirely different level. My colleague Randy Emelo likes to call it transformative mentoring—and I can see why. Mentoring, when done well, calls for us to be brave, to leave our comfort zones, and to attempt the things we don’t think we can do.
Mentoring relationships are one of the few places where you can be this bold and brave—where it should be expected of you, if you ask me. It can be hard to be daring in meetings with your manager, or during a performance review, or in the midst of a large staff meeting, but the same should not be said of interactions with your mentoring partner. Your mentoring conversations should be when you push yourself and take a chance, because you know you are within a safe place that you and your partner created.
The point of mentoring is to improve yourself. As such, you should encourage yourself and your partner to try new ideas, to make bold decisions, to take action even if you might fail. Your partner will be there to help you and to support you. And if you’ve built a mentoring network, you will have even more people rallying around you and cheering you on. Don’t ignore this opportunity to be brave!
This bravery is not just limited to mentees, by the way. It can also manifest through your support of your mentoring partner in your role as a mentor. Don’t shy away from talking about the difficult things that have happened in your work life (or personal life if it pertains). Show your mentee that you tried, you failed, you persisted, you succeeded—give them the whole picture. There likely will be many opportunities to stand by your mentoring partner, support them in their development, and be a guiding influence to help them overcome their problem. This will have even more meaning if your mentee knows that you, too, have had to overcome difficult situations. They can learn from your past, so don’t be stingy in sharing it.
Regardless of what role you play, here are three guiding principles you can use when supporting your mentoring partner.
Be a compassionate listener.
Connect with your mentee or mentor through empathy and commiseration, which will show them that you care. Sometimes active listening is all you need to do for them; after you feel you understand and have expressed empathy, simply ask, “Is there anything else you want me to help you process concerning this situation?” Listening with compassion can help your partner trust you more and be more open to suggestions for overcoming their challenge.
Explore with an open mind.
Don’t judge your mentoring partner on what situations they find challenging or the reasons why they find these circumstances difficult. Instead, help them clarify what they are learning about themselves from the challenges, what the situations are revealing about their values and goals, and what they can discover about their relationships in conjunction to these circumstances. Dig deeper by asking them to tell you more about how this is affecting their view of themselves, or what they really want or need. Use your experience and ideas to help guide them to appropriate responses, decisions, or solutions, while still honoring them as individuals who have autonomy.
Help them learn from any situation.
Let your mentoring partner be in control of their own destiny and learning. While you might be able to solve a problem for them, the impact will not be as great as if they made the appropriate decisions, selected a choice, or generated a solution for themselves. Give them the time and space to use their challenge as a learning laboratory for their growth and development. You know the old adage about teaching a man to fish—use that mindset here.
Mentoring can be a life-changing experience. I encourage you to not only take part in the practice, but to be brave in the attempt.
Read about Laura’s mentoring mantra in this blog from River.