By Peter G. Tamburro, Boomerang staff writer
Some of my fondest memories from my childhood are when my father first showed me how to hammer a nail and when "Grandpop" showed me how to make pineapples out of palm leaves. I also had good teachers that passed along some of their wisdom in addition to the assigned curriculum. Somewhere along my career, I realized a hallmark of a good supervisor is someone who teaches you how to just be better and sets you on the right track. Looking back, I realized I've had several mentors who had a hand in making me the person I am today.
The term "mentor" means many things to different people, but the Mentoring Center of Central Ohio defines a mentor as "a caring, unrelated adult or older youth who builds a relationship of trust and commitment with a younger, less experienced person." Dr. John V. Richardson, Jr., associate dean of UCLA's Graduate Division, says "Mentors are simply people who have the qualities of good role models." Professionally, a mentor is someone who shows others the ropes and helps them shape their career or interests.
Becoming a mentor is not difficult, but requires a time commitment to coach a less experienced individual. Many of us have many years of professional experience, so we have a lot to offer interns, new hires and even seasoned colleagues. Experts offer these suggestions for being a successful mentor:
- Set specific goals and provide structure. A mentor must set the stage for learning by being clear about the tasks or skills being taught and by being consistent in his or her methods.
- Set boundaries and expect the best behavior. A mentor gets the best from a protégé by being optimistic and polite. Good mentoring is based on mutual respect. Model the behavior you want to see and correct behavior that doesn't meet expectations.
- Seek opportunities. Don't get bogged down with problems. Instead, focus on opportunities to resolve or better each negative situation.
- Come to solutions together. A mentor doesn't have to have all the answers, and it is important that your protégé knows this. By exploring tough situations together, we teach others how to solve problems (and may learn a few new tricks ourselves).
- Make it interesting. Include common interests to help keep the subjects fresh, interesting and fun. Meeting outside of your normal structure will add dimension to working together.
- Believe in others. Everyone fails sometimes. A mentor should offer encouragement in times of both failure and success. Doing so helps your protégé keep dreaming, believing and making things happen.
- Believe in yourself. You still have some dreaming, believing and plenty of time to make things happen, too. You'll be a better mentor if your behavior reflects this.
Regardless of the setting (classroom, a sports team, or an organization like Big Brothers, Big Sisters), becoming a mentor can allow you to shape, influence and give positive direction to a younger person. By guiding others, you can help build their character and, in doing so, strengthen your community.
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