A bright, promising employee asks to pick your brain.
You agree and sit down for coffee a week later. As soon as you delve into the details, the conversation takes off. Before you know it, you’ve chatted about the industry as a whole, your career, and this person’s ideas and progress at work.
Sure, it’s possible that this is a one-time meeting. But it’s also likely that you’ve just taken the first steps down the path toward mentorship. Of course, that word implies a bit of commitment. And you may have a few hesitancies before scheduling your next coffee session.
George Costanza, Jerry Seinfeld’s humorous pal, summed up these hesitancies best with one question. “What’s in it for the mentor?”
As you ponder your relationship with that colleague, particularly if she’s junior to you, you may be wondering the same thing as George. Even though the relationship is typically thought of as one-way, it’s actually pretty symbiotic when done right.
Sheryl Sandberg, a supporter of mentorship in and outside the workplace, notes one key aspect to ensure the relationship truly is beneficial to both sides. Her advice? To seek authenticity, of course. “The strongest relationships spring out of a real and often earned connection felt by both sides.” So, if you’ve clicked with the coffee-shop shop-talker beyond superficial formalities, take it as a good sign that you’re headed in the right direction.
Here are four ways being a mentor can give you a professional boost.
It works wonders for your leadership abilities
Anyone can delegate tasks, assign deadlines, and oversee projects. But leading, encouraging, and inspiring team members is a much more impressive feat. Swapping stories, experiences, and useful career tidbits with your mentee will help sharpen your ability to weave personable touches in your own professional role. As a result, you’ll be more aware of the people around you and how you affect them on a daily basis.
It encourages self-reflection
You’ve been at it for 22 years and have gotten pretty darn good at what you do. But have you hit a plateau or stopped setting new career goals for yourself? Spending time with an energetic professional who’s fired up about the industry can remind you of your own aspirations. Then, you’re not only giving back, you’re finding ways to continue moving forward.
It extends your network vertically
Take an honest look at your LinkedIn connections. As you scroll through those names, how many are 10 years older or younger than you? If the answer is “not many,” taking on a mentee can help deepen your network. This is valuable for two reasons. The first is that it helps you maintain relevancy within the field. A mentee can potentially even help position you as a go-to subject matter expert. The second is that gives you more resources to call upon when you’re looking to take your own next steps (and those resources won’t be nearing retirement).
It helps bridge gaps in your company
If the mentee you forge a bond with is an internal employee, your relationship has the potential to slash some major hierarchal roadblocks. Opening the communication lines between employees is essential to building a happy and efficient team—even if some of those ideas never make it to the drawing board.
Similarly, your relationship may help ease the stigma associated with seniority. The employee will still respect you, but he may not be as apprehensive to speak up when it’s time to solve a problem he knows all about. Every generation has come to be known for a set of strengths, and now that business has taken a sharp turn toward technology, it’s important to bridge any knowledge gaps that may exist.
If you still aren’t sold on the fact that you can benefit from taking on a mentee, just take Sandberg’s word for it. “Mentorship is often a more reciprocal relationship than it may appear, especially in situations where people are already working at the same company. The mentee may receive more direct assistance, but the mentor receives benefits too, including useful information, greater commitment from colleagues, and a sense of fulfillment and pride.”