“I am not a teacher, but an awakener.”— Robert Frost
At the beginning of the year I became a mentor for JumpStart , which is a non-profit organization that helps entrepreneurs start and scale their business. I have so much respect for entrepreneurs — it’s been a lot of fun and I have learned so much already. I also recently received an invitation to an event honoring a great guy I mentored early in my career who was recently elected chairman of a business association. And, I do consider myself extremely fortunate to have had an early career mentor. I learned, flourished, sweated (and whined a little) under Jim’s “tough love leadership style.”
Like so many other newsletters spurred by serendipity, when I recently read an article by Anthony Hughes, Director for the Burton D. Morgans Mentoring Program at Jumpstart, I knew we were getting a signal to share some thoughts on the topic. Anthony offers five different character types of mentor: The Challenger, The Cheerleader, The Educator, The Ideator and The Connector. A Challenger is the person who will push his mentee while The Cheerleader provides the energy and support needed during rough patches in a person’s career. The Educator and Ideator serve to provide the broad vision; with an educator mentor, one would expect to receive great insight and he/she would help the mentee avoid mistakes. The Ideator is the thought partner, as Hughes describes — the person that helps the mentee to think critically. The Connector is the person who helps the mentee rub elbows with the right people and uses the expanse of his or her network to put the mentee in touch with the best people. While each type may have a specialization or particular strength, a truly great partnership is built on the basis of finding just the right mixture.
Anthony’s article discusses the importance of a mentor/mentee relationship in entrepreneurial settings and I have found these views to be true. In business, and in our lives, I have also found that these types of relationships don’t have to be as formalized or institutionalized as I once thought. That is, it’s about getting back to the genuine essence in relationships. As we see it, mentoring has/can evolve to just being about two people connecting and seeing a mutually beneficial, and genuine link that can happen outside the confines of a cubical.
Regardless of the characterization of a mentor/mentee relationship, there are several key benefits for both the mentee and mentor. As a mentee, the most important part of this connection is to see the “adjusted” perspective. The value is greater than just a networking connection and it offers a chance to create a lasting bond between both people. The mentee gains to see the world from a broader or different angle, from someone who has lived it. I believe that storytelling can be a very powerful part of mentoring and a mentor offers the opportunity to tell his or her story and to provide insight on past mistakes and fortunes. The value for the mentee is to ask about both and use those examples in their career and otherwise, as possible guides for their future ahead. One of the best things about this type of relationship is having a person to challenge and push you — similar to Anthony’s description of The Challenger. It’s a way to remind the mentee of the many unknowns and the lessons to be learned. Think of it as an “ego check” of sorts where the mentor acts as a Mr. Miyagi, who continually raises the bar higher to drive greater learning. Humility is a great well for growth.
Yet, the relationship isn’t just one sided — the mentor experiences similarly from this evolved view. It shouldn’t be a purely altruistic gesture or a pat on one’s back. Nor does it have to be limited to a person’s career, even if it may start out that way. The value for the mentor primarily is in offering one’s self to another for support. In doing so, his or her own weaknesses and strengths become more apparent amidst their efforts to help another identify theirs. This, in effect, encourages greater self-reflection and introspection and allows the mentor as well to grow and develop better self-awareness. No one has truly ever “grown up” to a point where no change is needed or a flaw disappears, and so, it’s an opportunity to look within and ask what support or improvement is needed for the mentor. The other gain for a mentor is to be able to see the future through the mentee’s perspective; like a teacher instructs and aims to inspire the younger generation in order to create a better reality for both people. In this way, the experienced mentor is able to impact change (corporate and otherwise) to help empower the mentee. Taking a stance on an issue and involving the mentee creates greater satisfaction for the mentor, and self-worth and accomplishment for the mentee.
For me, a mentor and mentee chemistry is what creates the “moment” where both people decide to invest; often without even articulating the intent. That’s when mentor and mentee create a genuine exchange that can make big differences in people’s lives and endure. I am grateful for these moments in my life.