One of the reasons that I like to mentor is that we are dealing with the whole person rather than just a part of their life. Coaching is most often focused on generating improvement in one or another area – make you a better leader or better at being a team member – learning how to use a CRM effectively or pull together a financial report. But mentoring deals with fundamental issues like ‘what should I be doing with my life’ and ‘how can I become a better version of who I was born to be’.
Another reason that I enjoy mentoring is that it always seems to bring unexpected, and often surprising, additional benefits. Changing a life’s course – and, in some cases, saving a live – can have far reaching impacts. Here are just some of them:
Many of my mentoring clients first approach me with a specific need. They want to mitigate a particular behavior, break through a barrier or make a change that has long been needed. We do focus our work on that need and initially meeting those needs takes up most of our energy. But very soon they come to realize that there are many, unanticipated benefits that flow from working with a first-rate mentor. Here are just a few my clients have identified:
Improved capabilities in dealing with complex situations: This is a major advance for most of my clients. They learn that they can address and successfully meet complex challenges using their own skills, judgment and persistence. They can solve problems on their own that they used to find daunting. There is no more rewarding experience than watching a client confidently move through a series of complex issues and challenges. Once you know how and understand that you can solve problems that others find daunting, you are in a whole new class by yourself.
Ability to self-assess more effectively and honestly: Most people have a set of stories that they tell themselves about who they are. Most of these stories have seldom, if ever, been challenged. As a result, the client has a somewhat casual knowledge of who they are and what they are capable of. I would also observe that most often these self-images are far below the mark. They underestimate themselves and, by doing so, limit their potential success. As a mentor, I act as a strong and persistent mirror. Most often I am convincing a client that they are far better than they have been allowing themselves to think they are. It can be a frustrating experience until they finally realize that they really are better than they had been thinking. Then the smiles come and progress accelerates.
Better professional and personal relationships: As the mentoring engagement advances, clients become more comfortable with themselves and confident that they can meet the challenges they face. As a result, they become more relaxed in their approach to others. One client recently told me, “I now have friends among my co-workers. That is such an amazing change. Before, I saw everybody as a potential ally or adversary. Wow, what a difference.” Sometimes this is call ‘becoming more comfortable in your skin’. The acceptance of who you truly are is a major step that unlocks all sorts of potential and possibilities.
New, improved skills and the abilities to use them: Part of each mentoring engagement focuses on the development of new skills. We identify those skills which will best advance the client’s ability to engage productively in their role and contribute significantly. I like to describe it as learning to use a new tool. Those of you who took shop class in high school will know what I mean. When you first entered the classroom, there were all these tools that you did not know how to use. Hopefully, by the end of the class, you had new skills. Good mentoring helps a client develop skills that are important to their career. The real joy comes with watching a client wield one of those tools confidently and effectively.
Improved ability to communicate: This is a major step forward for most of my clients. In the past, many of them were hesitant to let other people know what they thought. Some would reserve their suggestions because they lacked the confidence or had a low self-image. Others thought that ‘the nail that stands up gets hammered down’. One of the early goals of my mentoring engagements is to help the client realize that they can make substantial contributions; but only if they speak up. Using several exercises which I have perfected over the years, we develop their ability to contribute without being overly aggressive. Once they learn this skill, their contributions improve as does their standing in their team.
Heightened situational awareness: Many of my clients have developed blind spots. They have developed the habit of only selectively seeing what is going on around them. Often this situational blindness includes the motivations, skills, roles and human characteristics of other members of their organization. With these blinders on, they are constantly running into trees and stumbling over rocks. One measure of my mentoring effectiveness is now much of the available information that client absorbs in a given situation. I often tell them, ‘the information is there for you to harvest. It is free and available to all. The person who harvests the most will better understand the possibilities. That person will come to control the process.’
Emerging leadership skills: Once a client begins to accept their true value and sharpens their situational awareness, they begin to take leadership roles that they never before thought possible. Their clarity of thought and sharper awareness of possibilities makes them stand out. Mentoring is all about helping you become a better you in every way. Once you make that journey, you will seem different to your co-workers and supervisor. You stand out as a special person who has ‘got it together’. You become more effective in charting the best course to the objective. You also become the person that others will follow along that course.
A better balanced person: Good mentoring also helps you balance your professional and private life. I have had clients tell me that my mentoring saved their marriage. When I reply that ‘we were not working on their marriage’, they always say ‘yes, but we were working on building a better me and that better me is now in a better marriage’. You should always expect these kinds of benefits. Mentoring should support the development of the total you; not just the business you.
Good mentoring should impact all parts of your life. Each session should add to your confidence and capabilities. Remember that you are making an investment in you. The return on that investment is an empowered and far more effective person who is more secure in their self-image as well as their professional and private life.
© Earl R. Smith II, PhD