It’s official. January is National Mentorship Month. Mentorship falls in the “should” category for many of our leaders. They think of it as something they owe the world, and an example of “the right thing to do.” This holds especially true if they benefited from powerful mentorship experiences during their career. However, mentorship is not something you should do to check a box.The best mentorship relationships - both on the receiving and giving end - begin with genuine curiosity and authentic connection. If these ingredients are missing, the relationship will be a waste of energy for both parties. In the official White House Proclamation on the topic, the emphasis is on how mentorship helps the individuals on the receiving end grow and develop. However, mentorship is really not just about the mentee, but also an experience that has a huge impact on the mentor.In this piece, we are sharing some of the most impactful lessons we’ve learned both as mentors and mentees. As you read them, notice what comes to mind. Did you remember stories of your own? Did you realize you actually are mentoring someone right now, and didn’t even realize it? We’d love to hear your stories.
Look for the good in everyone, even when it is hard to see. My Grandma taught me when I was really little that everyone has goodness, and that if I can’t see it, it is because I’m not looking hard enough. She helped me see that past the barriers we use to protect ourselves, past the words and even past the behavior, lies shared human vulnerability. I learned early the value of compassion because you never fully know someone’s story.
Mentoring has been the most eye-opening and educational experience of my life, honestly, in that it makes me constantly evolve and challenge my beliefs. I used to be so sure that I knew what someone needed, only to realize that my answers or conclusions are not the answer at all. Empowering someone to find their own answers, and to guide them gracefully while holding them and witnessing them, rather than being quick to impart my wisdom (even if I know!) is the most powerful experience of mentoring.
Not everyone knows that I actually began my career in business as Whitney’s executive assistant. The biggest lesson I learned from her back then, and one I continue to learn is to give constant grace. I first noticed it in the way she wrote emails. When she was holding someone accountable or following up on a “miss” with someone internal or external, she always left room for the respondent’s dignity. I had generally taken a more aggressive “You are wrong, or you have messed up, what are you going to do about it?” approach before. I learned how to reach a mutually agreeable conclusion without so many negative emotions or power plays.
This has been extremely freeing for me, actually. I have learned that I am not responsible for my mentees’ outcomes. I listen, give input when asked, and I do not need to follow up to ensure they did the thing. Of course I’m often curious how a situation turned out, so I do follow up. But it’s a no-pressure followup. Since I naturally gravitate toward roles in the workplace where accountability and followup is a central piece, I love that there are some roles in my life where I don’t have to flex this muscle. I just have to show up and share the wisdom that I’m very proud to have.
To see that the only thing holding me back from getting what I want from my career was me. A tie/close second was: the only way to build your vision is by doing it yourself and trusting that you CAN and WILL succeed. I’ve had the same advice from multiple mentors over the last 10 years - and I finally listened - and they were right all along.
That investing time and energy in the success of others is extremely fulfilling for my soul. Seeing someone and helping them see themselves is a true gift and I love investing the time in order for someone to see what I see and then making changes to help them get where they want to go. I guess it’s paying it forward because I had so many people do that for me and I was constantly amazed that someone would invest in me so heavily. I love meeting new people and hearing their stories and dreams and desires and it fuels me to help them figure out how to achieve everything they want.