As a leader, you’re really busy. While mentoring a rising high performer may sound like a great opportunity, you might worry that you just don’t have the bandwidth. But here’s something you may not have considered: Most people think of mentoring as a giving exchange, but it’s really a getting exchange.
“After 40 years of mentoring, I can say it’s a reciprocal relationship in which mentors often learn as much as they teach,” says Bert Thornton, a former president and COO of Waffle House,
and coauthor along with Dr. Sherry Hartnett of the new book High-Impact Mentoring: A Practical Guide to Creating Value in Other People’s Lives.
“Becoming a mentor can directly lead to a revitalization of your own career, engagement, goals…and life!”
Dr. Hartnett, who is founding director of the University of West Florida’s Executive Mentor Program, points out that for many high-level mentors, the monthly time commitment is typically no more than an hour of preparation and an hour to meet. Some pairs might choose to meet more often, others less.
If you still aren’t sure whether you’re ready to add “mentor” to your list of responsibilities, read on to discover ten surprising benefits you can expect to receive:
Mentoring can reignite your engagement. As you share your accumulated knowledge with your mentee, you’ll explain why you chose the path you did and reflect on what your career means to you. Especially if you’ve just been going through the motions for a while, this self-reflection can help you rediscover your enthusiasm for your job and reconnect you with your professional purpose.
It can help you hone new skills. Mentees can teach, too! Often, they keep their mentors up to speed with current tools and technologies (for instance, what apps they’re using for productivity), help them learn to work with those of a different generation or background, and give them new insights into topics like inclusivity and unconscious bias.
Mentoring can help you get to know yourself better. You’ll sometimes need to take a step back and ponder what you really “know.” You’ll confront topics such as the nature of leadership, what success really means, and how to be a better person. This introspection will either reinforce your viewpoint or change it, driving learning and personal growth.
You can develop lifelong relationships. “I still have contact with men and women who sat across the table from me 40 years ago,” shares Thornton. “Through the years, we’ve talked about college, jobs, surviving and thriving in the business world, marriage and kids, finances, and stress. Now we talk about how they are enjoying the fruits of a successful life. No one can doubt this is the perfect outcome.”
It expands your network. Over the years, many of your mentees will go on to work for other organizations. Maybe you will too. You never know how these connections might eventually help you, your company, or your future mentees.
It raises your profile in the organization. In most organizations—especially those that have a formal mentoring program—mentors are considered an influential, successful group of leaders. When you add value to your company by developing mentees, your reputation will benefit.
Being a mentor pushes you to always do your best. “Knowing that your mentee is closely observing how you think, act, tackle challenges, manage conflict, etc. will ensure that you’re not cutting any corners,” points out Dr. Hartnett. “If you give your mentee advice, they need to see you implementing it in your own career as well.”
Mentoring feels good. “To me, true success isn’t as much about wealth or power as it is about adding value, and where better to add value than in another person’s life?” says Thornton. “It’s a privilege to pay my experience forward to deserving, emerging leaders, and I have gained a deep, abiding sense of satisfaction from doing so.”
It can give new life to your self-development. Great leaders consistently consume an impactful list of books, articles, podcasts, websites, videos, etc. If your self-development has fallen by the wayside, you’ll need to kickstart it again if you expect your mentee to invest in themselves in a similar way. Revisit resources that have been of value in the past and discover new ones.
Mentoring gives you faith in the future. “Mentors often report that their opinion of the next generation has improved because they have a better understanding of younger workers’ strengths and potential,” says Dr. Hartnett. “Mentors also say they’ve become more effective leaders because they’ve gained important insights about younger people’s outlooks and priorities.”
“When you pass on your hard-won knowledge, experience, and wisdom, you powerfully impact rising high performers, your organization, and your industry,” says Thornton. “What better legacy can you leave?”
“And remember, developing mentees into better employees helps not just them, but your whole organization,” adds Dr. Hartnett. “An investment in a mentoring relationship is an investment in your own professional success.”
About the Authors:
Bert Thornton – Bert Thornton is the former president and COO of Waffle House. He is coauthor along with Dr. Sherry Hartnett of the new book High-Impact Mentoring: A Practical Guide to Creating Value in Other People’s Lives. His first book, Find an Old Gorilla: Pathways Through the Jungle of Business and Life, is a well-received leadership handbook for rising high achievers and emerging leaders.
Dr. Sherry Hartnett – Dr. Sherry Hartnett is coauthor along with Bert Thornton of the new book High-Impact Mentoring: A Practical Guide to Creating Value in Other People’s Lives. She is a marketing and leadership professor, consultant, author, and mentor. At the University of West Florida, she founded the pioneering, high-impact experiential learning Executive Mentor Program.