I’m 33 years old. I initially questioned my expertise for writing this blog post. I had always had a mental picture of mentors looking like Obi-Wan Kenobi, Gandalf, or Mary Poppins, none of which I feel I come close to a visual likeness of and they’re all older than 33. I was profiling mentors, and profiling is wrong! Then just like a spoon full of sugar, or divine intervention I received not one, or two but three messages, in the course of about eight weeks, from people thanking me for the influence I had on their lives and careers. I can assure you if you haven’t already, the day you receive a message like that will be one that causes you to slow down a little and examine yourself and the bigger picture of your life.
Two of the individuals who sent me messages were students I had worked with in a professional setting whom I did manage for very brief chapters of their careers. The other was a young lady who grew up in church with me but was six or more years younger than I. In reading their messages and thinking about the time I spent with each of the three, I realized a critical trait for being a mentor. A synonym for the word mentor is a teacher, and in all three examples, I realized I had taught by example. I hadn’t practiced a formal curriculum for mentoring someone, I was just honest and offered advice when asked for advice.
I had treated all three of those people, the way I would want to be treated. I had always been honest with them in praising their accomplishments, or providing feedback on their work and I encouraged them to always be honest with me in critiquing my leadership. I did not force my opinions or beliefs into their decisions but rather tried to listen with an unbiased attitude. I tried to help them see varying viewpoints for solving a problem. And I strived for professionalism but maintained my lighthearted personality.
As I wrote those characteristics I realized they also defined the people I look to for mentorship,maybe that should have been the direction for this post, but who refuses a spoon full of sugar? I have mentors in my professional career, my personal life, and my spiritual beliefs and while those people have changed and evolved throughout my journey, each of them encompasses traits that I too try demonstrate to those younger people I encounter who may see me as a guide along their voyage. Interestingly enough, my mentors haven’t taught me how to use a lightsaber, led me to a magical ring, or carry a bottomless carpet bags (they all older than 33 though).
Another common trait that I reflected on in both scenarios is that these mentorships are not forced or even formalized. My mentors are people I’ve befriended and identified as having characteristics I’d like to emulate in my career or life. I’ve never even asked them to be my mentor and I think that’s why the relationships work: neither party is trying to accomplish some vague set of criteria for being a mentor, they are merely leading by example, listening and providing honest feedback.
A final lesson my reflection of mentorship reminded me of: the power of a heartfelt thank-you. If you are a mentee, tell your mentors that they have an influence on your life. And mentors, let the power of that thank you really sink in and motivate you.
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