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Ohio Department of Aging Boomerang: It all comes back to you!

Boomerang: It all comes back to you!

My Community - January 2012

What it means to be a mentor
Take credit for what you have to offer others

At work, Bob usually helps out the new guy, telling him where everything is and giving him the history of certain procedures. For Bob, it seems like the decent thing to do and makes his job easier in the long run. Plus, talking to the new guys keeps Bob up on all the new trends.

Anita's neighbor kid tends to come over and hang out while she works in the yard. Anita puts him to work, helping in the garden and raking leaves. The kid is funny and she enjoys talking to him. They've had many discussions about school and life. She feels she helps keep him out of trouble.

Bob and Anita would never describe themselves as mentors, but that's what they are. Growing up or throughout your career, were there people who encouraged you, showed you the ropes and helped you become the person you are today? Most successful people say they had mentors along the way who guided and encouraged them. Ever thought about returning the favor and mentoring someone?

A lot of people don't take credit for what they might have to offer, and you never know what you have to offer until you start offering it. To be a mentor, you don't need special skills, just an ability to listen and to offer friendship, guidance and encouragement. Mentoring happens in schools, churches, businesses and in the community. It can happen in formal or informal settings, with children, young adults or anyone who looks to you for guidance.

Formal vs. informal mentoring

In a formal mentoring situation, such as Big Brothers Big Sisters, or through a business or church organization, you will be trained on what will be expected of you in the mentoring relationship. When volunteering to mentor young people, you can expect to undergo a background check and have your fingerprints taken. You will be matched with someone with whom you agree to meet regularly. While it may be a little awkward at first, you will get to know your mentee, learning about him, his goals and what is important to him.

Unlike formal mentoring programs, informal mentoring just happens. There are no programs or meetings to attend, no training and no guidance. These are relationships in which two people just get together to share ideas and learn. There are no specific goals or outcomes. Usually, a more experienced person goes out of her way to help a mentee set goals and develop the skills to reach them. An informal mentor provides coaching, listening, advice, sounding board reactions or other help in an unstructured, casual manner.

What mentors do

Mentors are role models, cheerleaders, policy enforcers, advocates and friends, all rolled into one. A formal mentoring situation will give you a structure to guide you in developing the relationship and will usually provide group activities for you and your mentee to get to know one another. Other common activities include simply talking together about your mentee's experiences, goals, plans and skills, working together on an activity or playing games.

In an informal mentoring situation, someone may approach you for advice, guidance or just to hang out with you. In a business situation, a colleague may come to you for help in developing his career or you may want to help a colleague develop her skills. In any case, you can help the person clarify his goals and needs, teach him necessary skills, recommend specific actions and, most of all, lead by example and serve as a role model.

While the mentee benefits from your guidance, you also benefit. You not only learn about younger people and what they're asking today, but you also learn something about yourself. You may be teaching someone new things, but during the process you can learn personal development skills and redefine your own career path and goals.

For more information about mentoring, as well as additional resources, visit Mentoring.org.

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