Fact-based knowledge gaps are easy to identify and fill. Even if you’re a “department of one”, you can rely on courses to maintain technical skills.
But what about your personal development? While a good team of colleagues and co-workers can provide a network of professional learning and support, it doesn’t always include individual career needs and life goals. To nurture those, you need effective mentoring.
2017: The year of Millennials and career mentoring
Mentoring has come under new scrutiny this year. It could be due to the “Millennial” generation which is now the largest cohort in the workplace in some parts of the world—certainly in the United States, where according to US Census Bureau data, Millennials outnumber other generations and are the most diverse—44% being part of a minority race or ethnic group. The picture is different in Europe, where Millennials are a minority—making up only 24% of the adult population in the 28-member European Union, according to Pew Research Center.
The growing Millennial workforce is the focus of a recent Forbes article announcing that we should “Make 2017 The Year to Get Serious about Mentoring”. The author gives good reasons why companies should encourage and adopt mentoring programs. For instance, mentoring encourages high levels of employee engagement and improves employee retention. In addition, the author writes:
“A mentoring program guides employees over the hurdles, and helps them achieve in a way that’s aligned with the company’s mission as well as their own.”
Mentoring has come under new scrutiny, but as I’ve been discovering, mentoring is flexible, with benefits flowing from within to without your working environment—and vice-versa.
The accidental mentor
Often the realization you would benefit from mentoring emerges from unexpected places. And those unexpected places don’t have to be directly related to work.
Being a native English speaker in a non-English speaking country has offered up a number of mentoring opportunities for me. Someone on a local Facebook group said they needed a tutor to supplement their 10-year-old’s English instruction. Never having taught, I applied, citing a degree in English and a wide range of interests. His parents were delighted to give me a chance and trusted me to decide what we would cover in our weekly meetings.
And so far, both parties have been satisfied. It turns out librarians make excellent tutors and mentors; and enthusiastic bright children enjoy telling stories using their new vocabulary. However, to my surprise, the benefits haven’t just been one way. I feel that my young student has given me some insight into the way I would like to be mentored, as well as refining the mentoring approach I would take.
Private tutoring and mentoring have a lot in common:
- There is an element of personal growth and achievement.
- Both require regular guidance, monitoring and review.
- There are valuable learnings through discussion and an exchange of ideas
- Most importantly, there is also a large element of mutual trust.
Asking for assistance and allowing yourself to develop your soft skills with the guidance of an outsider is actually a skill in and of itself.
Often you need to be able to ask really basic questions without fear and without feeling that you’re going to be undermined or judged. Making mistakes and being able to openly discuss how you can do things more effectively is key to improvement. Yet many people don’t want to appear foolish, or incapable, especially at work. That’s why human resource departments involved with internal mentoring can have a conflict of interests—and the growing concept of online matchmaking for mentors.
Long-distance, virtual mentoring
When the opportunity to work with young people came up at LAC Group, I immediately volunteered. Despite the time differences between the United States and Croatia, where I live, with clever use of technology and a connection with the right person, I was confident it would be valuable experience for both. The young person has access to a trusted adult, and there is space for the mentor to focus on personal development rather than competency-based development.
Good mentors make good mentees
My positive experience with tutoring has meant that I was more open to asking for a mentor when I made the decision to be a mentee. The person I approached is aware that mentoring is not focused solely on job skills. They know that good mentoring goes beyond competency, focusing on helping to shape other people’s character, values, self-awareness, empathy, and capacity for respect.
Taking that first step with people you can trust is the perfect start to real mentoring.