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Want a Career Boost? Become a Mentor

Nicole Fallon

In a traditional mentorship, there is a mentee, who is usually a new or less-seasoned worker seeking direction in his or her career, and a mentor, who is typically an older professional who imparts wisdom to the mentee based on his or her extensive experience. As a mentee, you can call on your mentor to guide you through your career challenges, help you make difficult decisions and offer advice when you're not sure which direction to take.

"A good mentor [is] an expert active listener who can give constructive but developmental feedback," said Anka Wittenberg, chief diversity and inclusion officer of enterprise software company SAP. "He can put himself [aside] and listen to the mentee. [Mentors should] have a genuine interest in the professional development of others."

Within this context, it might seem that the "student" has much more to gain than the "teacher" from the relationship. Reverse mentoring — having younger employees share their technological know-how and fresh perspective with older ones — and peer mentoring are gaining traction as ways to create more mutually beneficial mentorships, but the classic dynamic can still provide great value to the mentor's professional life. Business leaders shared the ways in which mentoring others has furthered their own career development. [See Related Story: Want to Advance Your Career? Try Peer Mentoring]

Creating stronger workplace bonds. In cutthroat industries and work environments, it's easy to be skeptical of a colleague's personal motives when he or she offers you help. But in a good mentorship, there's no conflict of interest — mentees can trust that their mentors are truly looking out for them. That's why Kohsuke Kawaguchi, chief technology officer of Jenkins' business solutions provider CloudBees, believes the relationship aspect of mentoring provides such a great benefit to a mentor.

"Relationships in the workplace are often full of friction," Kawaguchi said. "Different people have different ideas about what to do, and this puts people into a frame of mind that makes it difficult to touch the person deeply. Mentorship ... has a way of removing this barrier. It lets you build a strong bond in a place where you tend to build many shallow bonds."

Ed Donner, co-founder and CEO of financial tech job search site untapt, agreed, noting that the expression, "What goes around, comes around" is especially true for business relationships.

"If you take time to help someone grow their career and achieve their aspirations, then, in addition to doing something incredibly satisfying and fulfilling, you are also building a lasting relationship that will likely benefit you both," Donner said.

Gaining the confidence to take your work in a new direction. For small business owners, succession planning can be a daunting prospect. While it can be difficult to let go of the business you created from the ground up, being a mentor to your future successor can give you the reassurance you need to start stepping back from the day-to-day operations.

"Mentoring my successor has given me the benefit of knowing the business will be in good hands," said Dave Greenhalgh, owner of Minuteman Press of Medford. "I have also been able to take a step back from the day-to-day work and focus more on our plans for the future — where we go from here, in what direction we can grow, what technological advances we can take advantage of. I like being a coach at this point in my career and am enjoying my new role while guiding [my successor] through the ins and outs of managing the business."

Remembering the value of listening. No matter their career level, all workers want to be treated with respect and feel like their voice is being heard. As individuals climb the ladder and gain more power in an organization, it becomes easier to forget what it was like at the bottom. Wittenberg noted that mentoring someone can keep your ever-important listening skills sharp — a crucial tool for making your top talent feel valued.

"Be sure to go into a mentoring relationship focusing on listening," Wittenberg told Business News Daily. "Executives ... like to share their ideas, [but] it can often come out as the mentor doing 80 percent of the talking and not even [being] aware of it. Allow the mentee to share his or her thoughts."

Assessing your own personal values and experiences. The best company cultures are led by managers and executives who are transparent, honest and practice what they preach. Eran Yaniv, CEO and founder of mobile performance testing company Perfecto Mobile, said that mentoring has given him the opportunity to hold himself accountable for the advice he gives.

"In many cases, I found myself ... trying to qualify how closely I would have behaved in the situations that I was helping to resolve," Yaniv said. [Was] the guidance I was giving truly aligned with the way I would act in that situation, or was my advice based on an improvement of my own actions and the lessons that I've learned over time? More often than not, I found my advice to be a compilation of my own actions and a 'this is what I should have done' analysis."

Reflecting on your best tactics thus far. It's in a leader's best interest to know what he or she is doing right. Becoming a mentor forces you to take an objective look at what's worked for you and what hasn't, and allows you to pass that knowledge on to your mentee in a way that will benefit both of you.

"Mentoring others ... is a way to stay grounded," said Dick Stieren, owner of Window Genie of Omaha. "The mentoring process reinforces one's own beliefs, calls to mind the best practices that have propelled [your] career and keeps [you] focused. I was often promoted because I had mentored an able replacement."

However, Stieren cautioned would-be mentors to avoid trying to turn a mentee into another version of themselves.

"Mentoring is not cloning — it is an exercise in critical thinking and an analysis of what has and has not proven to be beneficial in the past," Stieren said. "[Guide mentees] to find their own way to what they can be."

Image Credit: Hamara/Shutterstock
Nicole Fallon Member
Nicole received her Bachelor's degree in Media, Culture and Communication from New York University. She began freelancing for Business News Daily in 2010 and joined the team as a staff writer three years later. Nicole served as the site's managing editor until January 2018, and briefly ran's copy and production team. Follow her on Twitter.