I’ve done a lot of mentoring over the years. It’s one of the perks of the job. You get to watch people grow and celebrate their successes as they navigate through their career. It’s hugely rewarding to help someone else work through their career goals and become a leader. And, according to this article from the Harvard Business Review, the benefits might extend beyond just that.
The article looks at the benefits that a mentorship brings to the mentor, in addition to the well-known benefits it offers a mentee. They focus specifically on how mentorship can help to reduce stress and improve job satisfaction for the mentor by saying, “Mentors heard their mentees’ accounts of anxiety and realized these feelings — which they also shared — were commonplace. By acknowledging that these anxieties were common, both mentees and mentors grew more comfortable in discussing them and in sharing different coping mechanisms. Mentors often found their interactions with junior colleagues therapeutic.”
I couldn’t agree more. Mentoring requires you to be vulnerable to someone else and express areas where, looking back, you learned a valuable lesson. As we go through life, we learn lessons that change the way we behave, but we don’t often look back to remind ourselves of those lessons and how we made it through that time. Mentoring allows you to look back and reflect on the things you’ve learned along the way. You can teach your mentee tips and tricks that you might have forgotten you learned in the first place. Mentorship brings all of those experiences to the front and center. At the end of the day, you’re never too old to learn. You never know it all. And mentoring is a great way to bring all of those tools to the forefront as you’re teaching them to someone else. For me, it’s a reminder that I do have the strength to do what I’m facing today, I’ve done it before, and I can do it again.
But a mentorship is only as beneficial as the work that goes into it, so I’ll share with you my three rules of mentorship:
1. Set clear expectations
- Meet at regularly scheduled intervals (I prefer once a month)
- Have a defined duration for the mentorship (one year is a good amount of time)
- Ask the mentee to keep a journal to track assignments for the next meeting (this could be examples of where they tried a new technique or would have handled something differently)
- Have regular meetings after the official mentorship has ended (this could be twice a year or quarterly)
2. Ask the real questions. Mentorship is not a check in. You have to ask real questions and do real work to get real results. Ask questions that challenge the mentee to think critically, like:
- What are the parts of you that are challenging?
- What kind of personality do you not work well with?
- Where are the areas where you feel insecure in work?
- What obstacles do you not want to tackle?
3. Be vulnerable back. It's very important that you share what you regret or would have done differently. You have to make it a safe space to discuss what’s going well and, importantly, what’s not going well. That comes from sharing your own weaknesses. Otherwise, you’re just going to get the version of them that they think you want to see. If you allow that vulnerability, real breakthroughs can happen.
Decades of research has demonstrated how junior employees benefit from being mentored. Guidance from senior colleagues has also been shown to enhance mentees’ job performance and satisfaction. We know far less, however, about how mentoring might benefit mentors themselves. We were interested in understanding how mentoring might help mentors who work in stressful occupations. Prior research has suggested that mentoring can improve the emotional health of mentees when a close, trusting relationship is established. We wondered if mentors would receive the same mental health benefits from the relationship.