Monday’s post talked a bit about how to mentor and how some of the reasons people don’t want to mentor can be overcome. However, I’m not certain I answered the fundamental question posed in the title (I see a future post on Writing Effective Blog Post Titles). I will rectify that today. The short answer is that mentoring is good for you, not just the person you’re mentoring, both as a character-building and network-building activity.
I’ve met people who don’t like to share what they know because they believe that “knowledge is power” and that as long as they are the only one who knows X, they will irreplaceable and always have job security. I hate to break it to you, but if you’re someone who thinks like that, you’re dead wrong. Everyone is replaceable. Plus, if you don’t share what you know, you can get a reputation for being unhelpful, uncooperative, or not being a “team player.” Managers notice these things are are less likely to promote you if you keep all your arcane knowledge to yourself.
Teaching can be difficult–not everyone is a “natural” at it. However, it’s a good skill to acquire. When you’re teaching someone something you know inside and out, you wind up answering questions you might not have considered before because you have already internalized a process, task, or piece of knowledge. You might even find yourself learning something new about what you do because your trainee/mentee asks a question you had never considered. You might–and I know this is going to sound crazy, but it isn”t–learn a new or more effective way to do what you do based on the question(s) your trainee asks. Yes, it’s true: the teacher can become the student.
Beyond simple job tasks, people might turn to you for career or personal advice because they respect your opinion. You improve your character by offering the best advice you can with the well-being of the advice seeker (rather than your own) in mind.
While your mentee might gain the benefit of your network (say, if you wish to refer them to someone who can help him/her with a particular task), you can benefit as well. Just because someone is asking you for help with one sort of problem doesn’t mean they are ignorant or unable to assist you in other areas. They might know someone or about a particular activity that interests you. The help need not go only one direction.
Also, there is simply the simple fact that your mentee can become a friend, not just a business acquaintance or peer. I’ve yet to meet anyone who complained about having too many friends.
So, again, if you have the opportunity or are asked to help someone out, make the time. That doesn’t necessarily mean drop everything. Your mentee should have some respect for your schedule and boundaries. But when you find the time, make the time, and then provide the best help you can. You’ll find it’s worthwhile for you and the person you’re helping.