By Marilyn Dion, Certified Lifecycle Celebrant.
It’s January and here we all are with a clean slate. There are 365 days ahead of us that are chock full of possibility… a lot of responsibility! Resolutions are fresh on our minds with nowhere to go but up. How will we spend these days? Will we live up to our full potential? Will we help others live up to theirs? Like the tutor Mentor, of Greek mythology, some of us will choose to be a mentor to others this year.
If you are like me, you want to be the best mentor you can be. What is a mentor and how does a mentor differ from a coach? Let’s begin by clarifying the similarities and differences between mentoring and coaching. Each gives valuable developmental support. Mentoring offers high-level guidance for long-term development whereas coaching helps in more targeted areas for immediate improvement.
There is something about mentoring, that two-way transfer of powerful life-changing energy, that empowers not just the mentee but the mentor. Mentoring has a powerful positive effect on our world.
No matter what you do, you can be a mentor to others. It does not have to be official, part of an organization or even officially recognized as mentoring. Taking the time to be interested and care for people in your community is an excellent starting point.
A good parent is a mentor to their child by supporting their growth and development long term. Every parent and every adult was a kid once, right? We know the way; we have made our mistakes and enjoyed our successes.
The same is true with those who have been in an occupation or profession for a while. We have survived meltdowns, overcome hurdles, and have discovered what works and what doesn’t. Now we feel it is time to give back and to offer a hand up and share our hard-earned wisdom. I believe there are 10 requirements that are necessary to become a mentor who is most valuable to the advancement of their mentee:
- To be a mentor is that you must care; care about the person and care about what you are sharing with them. You must have heart.
- You must have a positive attitude. You must focus on the good. See the good, the value in someone and tease out those important traits that help an individual move forward in their life.
- You must recognize that it is a two-way street. You must understand that in spite of your expertise and years of experience, that you do not know it all. That the mentee has much to offer you. That you will be learning yourself until your last breath – and maybe even after that!
- You must have a cheerleader instinct; handing out deserved praise liberally. It is important to understand the best way to give that praise in order to have the most powerful impact on a person’s development. When I regularly attended Toastmasters, an organization of mentors who assist individuals who want to be better speakers, one of the things that were done after each person had a turn speaking on a given topic, was a written critique. It was done in such a gentle, nurturing manner. I call it the sandwich approach. A positive point, a growth point and a positive point. Never criticize the individual but talk about the talk, in this case. This is the best way, in my opinion, for someone to learn by doing. I try to keep this simple procedure in mind when making comments to anyone where my role is to help them grow.
- You must be practical and logical; you see the steps to be taken, the timeline to be followed, and know-how to share your knowledge effectively. You can share different perspectives successfully.
- You must be a good teacher; you lead by example showing your way but encouraging new thought, thinking outside the box, and thinking for oneself.
- You must have an open-door policy; you must be available. I don’t mean hourly, or daily or even weekly but reasonably when your mentee has a question or cause for concern. Your job is not to be involved in the day to day life of an individual but to be the guide. Consider how the potter’s hands are there to keep the clay from spinning off the wheel, but it is the wheel that turns and does the work. Without the guiding hands, the clay would go off on some tangent and the end result would be chaos.
- You must be analytical; you must see the ability and talent hidden within someone and assist in revealing it to him or her. You must be able to break down advice into small digestible bites and present them in a logical, memorable manner. Doing so helps the mentee navigate the path ahead of them and overcome challenges.
- You must be willing to share your resources – books that you have found helpful, people that have valuable insight to share, and introductions to other helpful contacts. Mentees need more than one role model and more than one voice of wisdom to prepare them for what lies ahead.
- You must have the ability to be supportive, especially at crucial times. When things get tough and the mentee is discouraged, a good mentor will express the words that push the mentee to pick themselves up, brush themselves off and carry on. The mentor assures the mentee that they matter.
Mentoring is like the gardening of new leaders. Mentors protect the seeds from disillusionment and prepare them for growth, they fertilize the minds for positive thinking and they water the thinking with pearls of wisdom and drops of advice. They apply the sunshine of truly listening and gentle pushes to harvest.
By sharing experiences with integrity, beautiful relationships built on a foundation of trust and understanding are built. Bringing out the best in others is what makes our world a better place.
There have been people in my life who have had a profound impact. When my youngest child was born, I saw an ad for a museum curator. It sounded wonderful to me – right up my alley. I didn’t have experience in that field but I recognized that I had the transferable skills required and a willingness to learn. The Board who interviewed me saw my potential and after hiring me, appointed a mentor. She was amazing and tutored me in all the areas of museum management and pointed me to the educational certification I would need to do the job properly. I was like a sponge and she was available when I had questions. I had great respect for my mentor and will never forget how her gentle instructions and guidance enabled me to be up and running as a professional in the field.
If I can have even a tiny impact on the motivation of each newbie Life-Cycle Celebrant®, or someone considering this type of work, then I’m honored to have the privilege!