Mentoring Is a Two-Way Street
Want to leave your mark on this world? Contribute to the success of another. In this warp-speed world, we all need as much support as we can get, and we therefore should be willing to offer whatever support we can to others.
Whether you are 19 or 90, you have a set of skills and experiences that have gotten you where you are today. You have overcome obstacles and challenges along the way, things that others might not begin to know about. Did you just pass the CPA exam while working a full-time job? Have you started your own practice? Did you survive a career change? Do you appear to be successfully juggling work and family? You can be sure someone is watching, someone who looks up to you and would be grateful to benefit from your knowledge and wisdom — someone you could mentor.
Dictionary.com defines a mentor as a wise and trusted counselor or teacher or an influential senior sponsor or supporter. Wikipedia defines mentorship as a relationship in which a more-experienced or more-knowledgeable person helps to guide a less-experienced or less-knowledgeable person.
Many companies, firms and organizations offer formal mentorship programs where mentors and mentees are matched up and hold regular meetings with structured goals, meeting guides and program timelines. I heartily recommend participation in such a program if available to you. But while these are wonderful learning opportunities for mentors as well as mentees, most mentoring relationships are not part of a formatted program. The most meaningful mentoring relationships I have been privileged to have, whether as a mentor and a mentee, have been informal and casual in nature.
Characteristics of a Great Mentor
- A mentor is a leader, someone who wants to make a difference in the world and is willing to step up and take on what it takes to do that — in this case providing friendship and contributing to the development and success of another.
- A mentor should be an awesome listener. If “active listening” is not already part of your vocabulary, look it up and take it on. Active listeners listen to understand, not to respond. Active listeners are able to shush the little voice in their head that is jumping up and down wanting to tell their story in order to really hear what is being said by the other. Active listening shows respect, establishes rapport and builds trust.
- A mentor should be a nurturer, caring about the mentee as an individual, not for their skills or accomplishments or a means to an end. People usually get thrown off with this statement. I hear, “why would I invest my time and energy in someone if I don’t get the Next Leader of My Firm out of it?” Well, that might be the reason you choose your mentee, but what if you discover that their goals, skills and interests are a far greater match for something entirely different? The win is discovering and encouraging what is best for your mentee, right? Not necessarily the match you had assumed or wanted!
- A mentor needs to be generous. As the person in this relationship with the more senior experience and knowledge, and as rapport and trust grow, the mentor should be willing to share contacts or make introductions to assist the mentee in gaining access and growth opportunities. A mentor should be willing to share their trials and tribulations as well as their successes. And, of course, they should be generous with possibly the most valued resource — their time.
- Most importantly a mentor should have the capacity to become a trusted confidant. A mentee is not likely to confide deepest desires and career concerns on day one, but by being the active listener, by encouraging and sharing, by being a solid yet realistic cheerleader, and by sharing his or her own confidences and personal pitfalls, a mentor will earn the right to be considered a trusted confidant — someone who will keep confidences and not judge. The best mentors don’t jump in with advice until asked. They will express concern and support and ask questions that provide insights giving the mentee points of reference. Great mentors let their mentees know that they are not alone in their challenges. They will provide encouragement while allowing the mentee to share their fears and thought process while they work through their issues.
Throughout my career I have been mentored by some amazing people, and in most of those relationships we never once mentioned the term mentor. The important thing was the rapport that we had and the bond we developed. For their leadership, friendship, trust, respect, nurturing and guidance, I am eternally grateful. And I hope someone feels I have paid that forward.
Know someone with potential that you admire? Invite them for coffee or lunch. Start a conversation. Become a mentor.
Catherine Z. Horn
Catherine Z. Horn, CPA, CGMA, SPHR, is accounting coordinator at New Jersey Right to Life. She is a member of the NJCPA Nonprofit Interest Group, Content Advisory Board and Nominating Committee and was a past president of the Middlesex/Somerset Chapter.