The Culture of Mentoring

MentoringBirdsMentoring is a vital part of getting a practical education in some fields of endeavor. Many successful people across virtually all professions report that a significant portion of their expertise came to them through learning ‘the ropes’ from another in their field. While common in our (U.S.) culture it is not a given worldwide. In Russia, for example, they do not know why people mentor because the benefits for the mentor aren’t usually tangible.

To many that seems naively short sighted. Mentoring helps create a rising tide of competency that raises all boats. Mentoring helps the teacher learn more about the lesson, and provides some valuable existential benefits (perhaps similar to some of the same ones we get from raising children). The benefits to the person being mentored are more obvious, but one of less apparent ones is that it helps to foster a culture of giving that works better for everyone in the long run. People who get mentored often become mentors.

In practice, however, most people who are mentors aren’t that intentional about it. They don’t devote much of their time or resources developing ways to help others learn their field. In fact, the benefit of being mentored is largely in the hands of the mentee. Being present, asking good questions, listening to and acting on coaching, and other signs of engagement and care create opportunities to gain mentoring without the mentor having to do much particularly special. Yet when one does show up as engaged the mentor becomes more likely to invest more time. We all appreciate it when someone is genuinely interested in us, and that makes it a lot easier to give something extra to it.

So the catalyst is often the person who is the mentee. But it’s the generosity of the mentor that makes it possible. Think what we could do if we worked even harder at it. All we have to do is be better receivers at the right times, and better givers at other times. The rising tide will do the rest.

Of course there are countless other examples outside the workplace.

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