On mentoring and being a mentor

Tomorrow night I give a lecture on mentoring. I have to cover who has been my mentor (that one is easy) and who I have mentored (also pretty easy since I mentor a lot of people). But in preparing for this talk, I started to think about the difference between mentoring and being a true mentor. I think there is a subtle difference.
Mentoring can be as simple as being there for someone, and giving that person advice, structure and support. But that does not make one a mentor. Just turning up does not do it, even though that is better than nothing. No, I think the term "mentor" is something that is earned and bestowed up you by the person who you are working with. It is a title of honor.

I have had lots of people give me advice and help me through the complexities of business. But in preparing for this lecture I realized that there is really only one person, Nancy Crow, that I would consider a mentor.
1. A mentor does not start out as a friend although he/she may turn into a friend.
2. It is not a one way street. A good relationship should be two way and reverse mentoring should be part of the deal. I expect to learn as much from the people that I am mentoring as they learn from me.
3. A mentoree has responsibilities. For instance, I insist that the folks that I am mentoring be prepared with questions to ask me since I do not want it to turn into a gab session. I am not there to be a buddy, I am there to impart knowledge and sometimes give some tough love. I will answer any question.
4. It has to take place in a third party space, not in my office or in their workspace, unless I am giving a design critique. I want the normal hierarchy and roles to be upended and that can not happen in a one's normal setting.
5. The person being mentored is responsible for setting up the meetings. I am responsible for being there and ready to listen. Cancellations are a no-no unless there is a really good reason.
6. What happens in Las Vegas stays in Las Vegas. I am kind of like a business shrink, and all information is confidential, and that goes both ways.
7. The relationship takes time to grow and mature. A mentor does not happen overnight.
8. There has to be mutual respect, which seems obvious, but it is a critical ingredient. You may be assigned a mentor, but it will be clear pretty soon if this will be a long term or short term deal. It is not all a bed of roses and a good mentor will be above all honest. It does no one any good to serve up platitudes.
9. If you find someone that you think really can be a mentor, work at it. Nurture the relationship. It may take years to ripen.
10. It is important to give back. If you have gained through being mentored then it is your unsaid responsibility to pass it on.

It has taken me 10 years of working with Nancy to feel like there is mutual respect but she will always be my teacher, my mentor. For as hard as I work, she is working just as hard and so there is always more to learn. Is she a friend? Yes, but I am super respectful of her time and do not ever impose on her. In fact I probably bend over backwards to make sure I am not invading her privacy or space. Recently she invited me to come see her new barn studio since I am using the same builder. Walking into her inner sanctum was a privilege that I will not forget. I also know that I worked damn hard to get there.... so I fulfilled my part of the mentor/mentored bargain. I do not waste her time and I have confided in her knowing my thoughts are safe.

Well, this blog post is also going to serve as my outline tomorrow, so all in all, time well spent. Off to yoga!

by JudyK