For young professionals, having an experienced mentor can contribute to their future success. The career advantages of having a mentor are well-documented and manifold. On the other side of the equation, it’s easy to assume executive mentors participate merely out of altruism.
There is more to mentoring than simply “giving back” or “feeling a sense of personal satisfaction.” These motivations for becoming a mentor certainly have some truth; however, this relationship carries a variety of significant benefits for the mentor as well, ranging from strategic to emotional. For executives in particular, acting as a mentor can move their own career forward.
Reflecting and Reenergizing
Mentoring provides executives a unique opportunity to reflect on their own career path, and find new inspiration. Chances are they spend most days in the thick of things, making decisions and staying immersed in their job functions. Making time to work with another professional on their development opens some breathing room for executives to reflect on their situation.
Protégés will often come to the table with challenges or questions they are pondering, and a mentor must go through a process of inquiry to learn about the context and approach to take. Understanding the types of questions to ask and how to build a frame of reference for any dilemma is a great practice for mentors to approach their own challenges. By supporting a protégé and coaching them through problem solving, mentors become better prepared to support themselves.
Building Emotional Strength
Confidence and self-worth are essential qualities for young professionals to develop, but mentors can take this opportunity to reinforce their own positive mental status. “Whenever I remind mentees of their good qualities, I try to take a minute to remind myself too,” says Justin Preston for The Chronicle of Evidence-Based Mentoring, “To be kind to and confident in myself is the best way I can be a role model for others, and by taking on the responsibility of mentorship, I am reminding myself to strive for a higher standard.”
In fact, building emotional strength might be more necessary for executives than we think: A 2014 Harvard Business Review study off 116 executives found that their biggest fear was being found incompetent. This is also known as “imposter syndrome,” or the inability to incorporate one’s achievements into one’s sense of self-worth. Clearly these executives have a track record of success under their belts, but they are struggling to own their achievements and draw emotional resilience from them. Mentoring someone else could help leaders struggling in this way to sit easier in their own strengths by using them to aid another person.
Growing Professional Networks
In a survey by Durham University, mentors said that the greatest benefits they derived from their programs were having the opportunity to reflect on their own practice, as listed above, and to develop a wider network of relationships.
By mentoring, people get to explore other parts of their organization or industry through the experience of their protégé. It’s an inside view one can’t gain from reading articles or attending events. Protégés can teach mentors about their unique area of expertise and the latest emerging best practices. The relationship provides a chance for both parties to form broad connections which are grounded on a personal level.
This insight into new functional areas can serve executives well down the road when it comes to creative problem solving. Relationships developed through their protégé can be of great strategic advantage because they broaden the reach of an executive’s knowledge and resources to draw upon.
Deepening Interpersonal Skills
In striving for greater leadership roles, executives would do well to refine their skills of working with others. These can be key attributes to unlock greater career success at the highest levels. The most successful leaders understand how the people around them work best and how to provide a vibrant interpersonal environment. Active listening is a prime example of a skill executives may be familiar with in theory, but don’t have a chance to practice often.
In general, teaching is an excellent way to cement one’s own knowledge. Executives must have a thorough understanding of the information, be able to consolidate it, and communicate it in a clear, effective manner. Simply getting the information out is a compound skill, but then seeing the receiving person through the learning process requires more nuance.
Learning new skills can be difficult, and provoke feelings of anxiety, embarrassment, frustration, and anger. This is natural, and a skilled executive should be able to aid reports through this progression. Effectively guiding a protégé through the learning process is a nuanced art that executives need practice to master.
Opportunities to work on these interpersonal leadership capabilities of nurturing and growth aren’t always present in the trenches of an average work week. Helping a protégé learn is another opportunity for executives to hone leadership skills without immediate, on-the-job pressure.
Feeling Personal Satisfaction
Finally, a sense of fulfillment is an important benefit to executives who become mentors. The satisfaction which comes from using one’s own expertise to help others cannot be understated. Building a deep connection allows both mentor and protégé to feel seen and engaged. Not only do most people feel great after helping others, but, as mentioned before, for executives it is a reflection of their own knowledge at work in the world. If they are able to be vulnerable and fully engage with their mentee, they typically will come out of the experience with a strong sense of personal satisfaction.