As leaders, we wear many hats – chief among them are mentor and mentee. Although many factors have impacted the effectiveness of my mentor-mentee relationships, I have found the most critical elements to be authenticity and intentionality.
Seek Authenticity… Be Authentic
Authenticity begins with removing assumptions. The biggest mistake I have made as a mentor is to assume I know what my mentee needs. For example, a female colleague I was mentoring at a law firm once asked me why I was so happy. I responded, “I’m doing what I’m built to do.”
She started to cry. She had graduated at the top of her class in law school, was on the fast-track to making partner, and then she had a beautiful baby. Her whole world had changed.
Through tears she asked me, “What’s wrong with me? I don’t think I want to be a high-powered lawyer anymore.” I asked her, “Would you paint this room with a hammer?” She shook her head. “Does that mean there is something wrong with the hammer?” For the first time in a while I saw her smile.
Our mentoring topics shifted from what I thought she should pursue as career goals, to what she wanted. She had discovered what she was built for and she needed affirmation that it was okay to define success differently. She is now a very successful mother, raising a well-rounded and incredibly smart child. She has her dream job; I have mine.
One of the most profound lessons that I have learned as a mentee is to be intentional in not only driving value, but also in knowing what to value.
Soon after taking a new role, I found myself struggling with my new supervisor. I couldn’t get past the differences in our leadership styles, and I was convinced that he was the problem. My mentor told me that my problem was “misplaced energy,” challenging me to first understand my leader, then to learn how we could drive value together.
My mentor’s advice changed my relationship with my leader and my team. Now that I’ve learned to focus on my team’s natural talents and strengths, our productivity and morale have improved.
I have learned that we often get out of relationships what we earn. We insult our own and others’ unique construction around us when we attempt to use mentoring as a vehicle to fundamentally change ourselves or others. I believe we find much more satisfying results when we use mentoring as a tool to unlock our true purpose.