People ask me all the time what it takes to be a great mentor, and how to find one. I’m always happy to offer advice and guidance but, the fact is, there is no set formula. I believe mentorship happens. Mentorships that evolve organically are usually the most satisfying. In many ways, mentorship is about being curious, engaged and connected. While there is no real mystery about being a good mentor, there are key ingredients that contribute to mentoring success.
As so many of you know, I lost my mom at an early age. Her wisdom, kindness toward all and overall generous spirit are what inspire me each day both personally and professionally. It’s these same qualities and values I bring to the workplace and that drive me to help guide others. Mentorship is all about the relationship – the give and the take. It’s not that hard, but it does require commitment.
A few observations:
Be Present or Pass
Throughout my life, I have always worked hard to make time for others. I really do jam-pack my day, find the capacity and fulfill my own personal desire to help people navigate their careers. There were times, however, when I just couldn’t add another task to my full plate and had to recommend another mentor for someone. It’s OK to say no – much better than saying yes and feeling guilt and regret for not finding the time. That’s not good for anyone. Do what you can to help mentees and meet with mentors – but don’t say yes when you know you mean no.
Have Empathy and Use Your Ears
The best mentorship connections start by listening. You may think you need to do more than that; but try lending an ear first. That’s easy, right? Talking through scenarios, offering a new perspective, brainstorming solutions – those things start with listening. There is incredible power in the authenticity of connecting with someone who has a shared experience. If you can impart personal wisdom to help power forward – that’s nice too, but it’s not required at first.
You Don’t Have to Be Ready for a Fixer-Upper!
Mentoring is not about fixing someone’s flaws or catapulting their career. It’s about give and take – I lend an ear or a perspective, make a connection or offer a new direction. And, my mentees also build me up and teach me new things. Help others, it will help you, I promise! Try it and tell me if you disagree.
Be a Fairy Godmother
One of my long-standing “mentees” refers to me as her fairy godmother. And, while we often laugh about this title she has bestowed on me, I secretly love it. I think everyone needs to be connected to someone who believes in you, genuinely cares, champions and advocates for you. When I first met this mentee as a very junior team member at Edelman, I knew she had a bright future and I made sure to recognize her strengths and coach her along the way. My open-door policy (which has always applied to all) enabled her to reach out and ask me questions. Importantly, when she decided to leave agency life, we stayed in touch; and I am proud to say she is an Edelman boomerang. I also know she now helps others who are starting out in their careers; that’s what makes me the proudest. It’s about karma and godmother goodness.
Lisa Sepulveda is chief client officer.