My Turn as a Mentor

Last updated: Jan 17, 2023

I recently received a letter from a former associate. In it, she expressed immense gratitude for my role in both her professional and personal development. She said that I helped her to identify her strengths, which allowed her to confidently advance in, what remains, a successful career. In conclusion, she added, I had been a gracious mentor and would always be considered a friend. Suffice to say, I was touched. To be acknowledged in such a way — to realize the positive impact you can have on someone — is incredibly rewarding.


Now, I don’t wake up in the morning saying, Hey, I think I’ll be a mentor to someone. Since I’ve attained a position to manage other managers, however, I have a pay-it-forward mentality when mentoring opportunities present themselves, as I was the beneficiary of great mentoring during the formative years of my career. I have seen that the best mentors have a sincere desire to help mentees grow and flourish — inside and outside of the workplace. There may be varying goals for a mentor-mentee relationship, but I’ll offer some personal perspectives.

The primary objective of a mentor is to provide measured guidance — not rapid, concrete solutions. I prefer to have frequent conversations, asking a line of “what if” questions to stimulate analysis. For me, it’s necessary a mentee is allowed the opportunity to think toward solutions without my overly detailed input. When I’m able to assess situations quickly because of my experience, it’s still best to be patient as the mentee continues to grasp what’s taking place. As I see it, it’s up to the mentor to offer frameworks and perspectives, not easy answers.

It’s critical, too, that a mentee feels supported throughout the relationship — especially through errors, complications, and not seeing eye to eye. A nuanced statement such as, “I might’ve handled that differently,” may be in order. It gets the mentor’s point across in an effective, but tactful manner. Building up the mentee’s confidence is an important benchmark of the relationship. I try to find a sweet spot in my style — avoiding the extremes of spelling everything out but never allowing egregious errors for the purpose of “learning a lesson.”

That letter from my old coworker will remain in my desk drawer, serving as a reminder of such a gratifying experience. Yes, the best mentors can offer an invaluable service to their mentees. I have found, though, the benefits are for both parties. In my experiences as a mentor, my thinking has been sharper and — notably — the interactions reveal some of my blind spots. In its finest example, learning is a two-way street in a mentorship. If your experience allows you to serve in the role of mentor, pay it forward. Help someone’s career!