In the first post of this series I explained why having a companion on your life journey is necessary. And in the second post of this series we demystified the mentor, saw what they are and what they do. But we didn't discuss what the motivations of the mentors themselves. Here is what we want to answer in this blog post.
Learning by teaching
Have you ever held a training? It is an insightful experience. You're supposed to be the expert. Of course, you want to appear knowledgeable. You know your stuff. Otherwise you wouldn't be here. But there will always be one question to throw you off. One simple question where you will think: "damn, I'm 80% sure I know the answer, but what if I'm wrong?".
Teaching shows you holes in your knowledge. By going over the basics or topics you thought you already knew, you verify that you indeed know them.
A few years back, one client was keeping a very significant part of our consultants busy. One of my first mentees asked me the following question: "How do we make sure that if this client disapears, we still have enough cash to pay our consultants?". I knew the answer. We have different clients, different cashflows, different contract models. Losing one customer or project doesn’t mean losing the money right away. If something goes bad, this ensures enough cash to remain over water for a while. It was enough to please his curiosity at the time. But the question didn't leave me. Was my answer correct? I had to verify.
As a software developer, you know what I call the "Stackoverflow-Effect". Stackoverflow (SO) is a question and answer site for developers. SO being a quite difficult community, you know that only a good question will get a good answer. So you craft your questions accordingly. You give it a good title and the right keywords. You explain the problem and where you want to go. You provide examples, list what you tried and why it didn't work.
And 50% of the time, during this process, you will find the answer you were searching for. And you will then wonder why you didn't see the obvious beforehand.
Reformulation is powerful. Trying to explain something to someone else is hard. It is hard because it shows you what you know and what you don't.
That's one of the effects mentoring has on the mentor. You help someone else to solve their problems. Problems that you already solved for yourself. But now you see them in a different light. You attack them with different cards in hand. And you might realize that your knowledge is not as secure as you thought it was.
While helping others you grow!
Being recognized in your career as someone who can lift others up
While helping others you grow. This sentence has many potential meanings. In the previous part, it meant that you gain knowledge. But there is another meaning. Have you ever heard the following sentence?
You will never look good trying to make someone else look bad
The short term gain one can experience by making someone look bad will always backfire at some point. But the opposite is not just true, it goes even further. Making other people look good, reflect on you as well. There can be an egoistic interest in raising other people and positioning yourself as a person who can do that.
Passed a given threshold, the raw output one person can generate becomes less important than the output of the group. That’s when servant (or host) leadership comes into play. Can you lead without being given the command? Can you guide by standing beside someone else? Can you provide guidance while being in the back seat? Can you lead by shutting up and letting be? This is what servant leadership means.
Mentoring is a training platform to grow your servant-leadership skills. Once you learn do it, you will see your market value start to grow as you become recognized for it. And if you play your cards well, this can become a key selling factor in further negotiations. That might even open doors for you.
Builing a collaboration network of likeminded individuals
Where do you go when you need feedback? Whom do you ask for help? Your spouse? Your friends? Yes, both of those are correct.
Except that neither my wife nor many of my friends really understand what I do. They can still be tremendously helping, but more often than not, for professional questions, I turn to my network of mentors and mentees.
I trust those individuals. I know, enjoy and cherish them for what the are. I know how they think. I value their feedback. We share common experience. They all know the "yes and" rule of improvisation theater. They know how to make an idea flourish instead of killing it right away with ”yes but”. And they all know how to provide me with feedback - even hard one - when it is necessary.
We form a network of like-minded individuals. They are like my very own little think tank. And it's crazy effective.
Making a life instead of “just” a living
Winston Churchill said:
We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give
We are back to the altruistic part of mentoring.
When my grandfather died, a man that I didn't know was there at the funeral. I learned later that my grandfather had worked for his entire retirement in an organization helping people in distress. This man had experienced personal bankruptcy and my grandfather had helped him for many years until he got back on track. This man was devastated at the funeral. He was mourning a family member.
I wish we could all have such an individual at our funeral. A person that we moved so much, that they feel like a family member left. What an accomplishment it would be. That’s my interpretation of this quote from Steve Jobs:
We’re here to put a dent in the universe
Mentoring is a first step toward changing the course of one life, for the better.
Mentoring sounds like a voluntary work that will only benefit the mentee. But there are many reasons to become a mentor. It can be improving your know-how by teaching others. But it can also be in your relations, by being recognized in your career as someone who can lift others up. It can also become a vast network of like-minded individuals that can help you at a moments notice.
Being a mentor can be an altruistic task, but it can be almost as much an egoistic adventure.
This is the third post of a series of articles about mentoring in which I explain you how to get started with it. Here's the second part if you missed it. The series goes on with part 4 about the mentee.
Do you have questions? Write your feedback in the comments below so that I can tailor the upcoming posts to your needs!