A Mentoring Frame of Mind

This blog post is a collaborative effort between Lisa Rosendahl and Jennifer V. Miller. Mentoring is a fascinating topic that can be approached from many perspectives. In this post, I approach mentoring from the perspective of "what attributes can Human Resource/Talent Managers look for in potential mentors," while Jennifer approaches mentoring from the perspective of a potential mentor and addresses the question "at what point does a person feel ready to mentor?"

So, let's say you are reviewing your Talent Management initiatives. You've identified a need for strengthened leadership development programs for employees and you look to the mentoring program. You have employees seeking mentors and although you have staff interested in being mentors, you know being a mentor is not for everyone. You begin to wonder about your mentor candidates. They are willing - but are they ready?

In your book, a mentor is a wise and trusted advisor and guide. So, what attributes can you seek in potential mentors to reach this end? Let's take a look.

Like a fine wine, mentors develop over time. Early in a person's career, they seek to learn and gain knowledge. They build relationships, set goals, and turn plans and ideas into action. Sometimes things go the way they expected them to and sometimes they don't. In the big scheme of things, their early success rate is not as important as the experiences they gather and the lessons they learn.

Over time, and this time can vary greatly from months to years, a person learns from their experiences and takes this knowledge gained to move themselves forward. They build on their interpersonal skills and their solid professional foundation. They develop expertise.

Some people continue on this path and are very happy and successful. For others however, a shift begins to occur. Once very satisfying to them, gaining, gathering and developing for self is no longer enough. They begin to feel that it's not about having the answers so much as it is having the questions. And, they decide, they want to help others.

"If knowledge is the piling up of facts; wisdom lies in their simplification." Martin Fischer

I've posted about wisdom before and in the comments to one post, a very smart reader defined wisdom this way, "wisdom blends education and experiences with listening and learning, with your open mind and willingness to respectfully assimilate different perspectives." 

What do you think of that? The word wisdom often brings a mental picture to my mind of a person on a mountain top, a rising cloud on a sunny day, or the owl from Winnie-the-Pooh. For many, wisdom is associated with age, but wise doesn't mean old.  Wisdom is not received, it is discerned and can come from very "young" sources like tech-savvy Millennials, graduates of the school-of-hard-knocks, or even the words of a sassy and a very inquisitive third-grader.

Where ever it comes from, wisdom is an essential attribute of a mentor (and of a mentee). Mentoring without wisdom is a coffee table conversation that may help sort things out but won't necessarily propel a person forward or provide a them with the tools to continue on their own.

When asked where does wisdom lie, another reader (I learn so much from my readers!) commented, "where ever it wants to I suppose. It's up to all of us to look for it and have those conversations. Life is a dialogue!"

Yes, life is a dialogue. Identify people willing to engage in that dialogue and you know you've found your mentors. Settle for nothing less.