5 things I have learned from Mentoring:
I began my mentoring journey for the Winning Edge Leadership Academy and their Game Changing Retreat in its inaugural year, 2018. I have the honor of returning for the Winning Edge Leadership Academy for its second year kicking off in June 2019. Since the first year, I have been able to mentor one of the Winning Edge graduates, Adila Gathers.
Although I am in the role of Mentor, I know that Adila is also teaching me so much. We have stayed in touch over the last two years and it is my hope that I have been able to pass on some knowledge that will help her in her future career.
Throughout my career I have tried to navigate both sides of being a mentee and a mentor. Having both perspectives has allowed me to see my relationship with Adila in a new light. Recently, she reached out before the Women’s Final Four in Tampa and it got me thinking about what I have learned and ultimately how we can be better. So, take a few minutes and learn from our experience.
1. A lesson I learned from a mentor early in my career is that, it is not the responsibility for the mentor to reach out.
I know this sounds very one sided, but depending on who you have identified as a mentor, they may not have the time to call, write, or text you every week or even every month. Early on, I made this clear to Adila with the caveat that as long as she stays in contact with me and lets me know what she needs and when she needs it that I would be there for her. This is what I loved the most and I think why Adila has been one of the best mentees I have had. She takes the time to send me updates of what is going on in her life. She let me know that she needed help before the Final Four and guess what, she had questions prepared for me! This is huge when a mentor may not have a lot of time. The fact that you are prepared and get to the point speaks volumes. She knows that she can send me friendly reminders (which is what I have communicated I need from her) and that allows me to help her when she needs an assist!
2. Show your professionalism
If I recall correctly, Adila was the first of my mentees to reach out to me and I could tell from the start her maturity, preparedness, and commitment to the mentor/mentee relationship. She was also very responsive whenever I did reach out and check in on her. She sought out her own professional development using me as a resource by asking to review her resume and while at the Winning Edge retreat I could immediately tell that she wanted all the feedback that she could get! With preparation for Tampa, we discussed how she should equip herself to be successful at the WBCA convention. We discussed putting together a binder, what she should include, how she should map out the sessions she would attend, and yes we even went over what outfits she should wear so that she would put her best foot forward.
3. It’s a Sprinkle not a Splash
I heard this phrase at a networking session and it symbolizes: when you are establishing a relationship with a mentor or someone you want to connect with, it is about the frequency of contact that you have. Adila was able to embody this phrase as she never overwhelmed me with her communication and did not seem to take offense to when I might not have responded so quickly. This is where the right balance of communication comes through and you establish how you will communicate, when the best time is, and to not go overboard drowning your mentor (or mentee) with numerous asks. Her sprinkles of communication let me know she is there and that also makes me think of her when opportunities rise up. She was also very aware of time and we worked on scheduling time and putting it on the calendar. Honestly, it was not just me who was busy, she was busy juggling school and her sport.
4. Closed mouths don’t get fed!
What I did learn about Adila is that she is not shy to speak her mind and go for what she wants! I love that about her. She was always able to express what she needed from me and how I could help her. What’s most important to note is that she did not just think, “oh my mentor is going to get me a job.” She knew she would have to do the work and I was simply a resource or sounding board. Mentees please do not get it twisted! Mentors are there to listen and guide. Like I said when I was a college coach, “we can draw the play up, but you have to execute and make the shot!” I know that Adila is grateful for any information or connection that I can give her and I know she will do the rest and hit the game winner! An important lesson here is to always share what you want to do and what your struggles are. The more vulnerable you are, the more courageous, and the more your mentor knows the better they will be able to help you and direct you.
5. Being a Mentor and Mentee is not always perfect
This is the self-reflection part. I know personally I can be a better mentor. I know I need to check in more, make myself available, and assist these young men and women on their paths. I also know there are probably ways as a mentee where they need to do the same. Mentees should also be thinking about what can they offer their mentor. It should not be a one way giving. The thought should always be, how can we help each other? No matter the experience or difference of age we all have talents and resources that we can provide. Also, this relationship is a long one that takes time to grow and invest in. You may not see the benefits right away, but if you stick with it you will begin to see how a mentor-mentee relationship really works. Whether it takes a year or 10 years, if you truly invest in people and get to know them authentically you will see how the dots will connect and how this can help you not only in your career, but also in your life.
Thank you Adila for helping me grow and learn more lessons about how I can be better as a mentor and I know you will continue to grow as a mentee. At the Final Four, I was able to share with Adila how much I appreciated how she has carried herself and how she approached this relationship in such a way that it makes me want to help her even more. I have no doubt she will be successful and for anyone out there looking to hire, I stand by my mentee and give her the highest of recommendation!
P.S. That’s a bonus lesson😉 Be genuine and show people who you are by your actions. Mentors take note of this! They might not be the one that gets you to your next opportunity, but they definitely may know someone who can and will bewilling to pick up the phone to make a call, write a letter of recommendation, and get you seated at the table where you need to be.