“Describe a favorite mentor and how they helped you.”
It was a simple ice-breaker prompt, one intended to encourage connection and conversation. I was facilitating a team-building program with a client and used question cards to transition back from a break. I figured the person who chose this card would share a name and a tidbit or two about his favorite mentor and that we’d quickly move on to the next segment of the day. But his response was unexpected and insightful.
“You know what, I’ve never really thought about how many good mentors I’ve had throughout my professional life,” he said. “I don’t think I could pick just one.” As he talked about his mentoring experiences, it was clear that he felt blessed to have had such meaningful relationships with mentors who chose to invest time and energy in his career.
Because we all took turns responding to the question card prompts, I, too, had the opportunity to reflect on this question. And interestingly enough, I had a similar answer. I’ve had several great mentor-mentee relationships, but one stands out.
Early in my career, I formed an easy connection with a woman named Brenda who, for me, provided the first ‘meaningful’ or ‘real’ example of what it meant to be a working mother. Looking back, we were exact opposites in many categories (personality, education, kids, marital status) but, I related to her. She didn’t have a post-secondary education or an elevated status in the organization, but she was full of common sense, she worked hard, and while always respectful, didn’t let anyone’s title intimidate her. I learned so much as she shared her stories – personal and professional. Brenda truly approached her mentoring role with the whole person in mind.
When I think back, I never asked her to be my mentor, she just was. And even now, as I reflect on others I have called “mentors,” I realize I never asked, “Will you be my mentor?” I feel incredibly lucky to have fallen into these mentor-mentee relationships so effortlessly, however, many professionals aren’t so lucky. This HBR article gives some great tips to those who’d like to be mentors or for those looking to become better mentors.
I’m happy to help others, just like Brenda helped me.