A woman in line at the drive-thru ordered her favorite morning coffee. She pulled up to the next window with money in hand and held it out the window to the cashier. “You don’t have to pay today,” said the cashier. “The customer ahead of you paid for your order.” What a pleasant surprise and great example of someone paying it forward. It shows that we can make a difference in the lives of others, no matter how small the kindness.
Want to make a big difference in the life of someone professionally? One of the best ways to do this is to offer your time as a mentor. You may be at the midway or later point in your Project Management or PMO career and have been very successful. You’ve accumulated skills, proven yourself highly effective, and navigated the challenges and politics along the way. Do you think the insight, wisdom, and experience you’ve gained would be helpful to someone just starting out in their career? 100% guaranteed!
What is a Mentor?
A mentor is a trusted counselor or guide. The term mentor comes from the Odyssey. Mentor was a friend of Odysseus, who, when he left for the Trojan War, placed Mentor in charge of his son Telemachus and palace. The term has morphed over the years to mean someone who imparts wisdom to and shares knowledge with a less-experienced colleague.
A mentor is usually paired with an up-and-coming or high-potential employee who a company feels will make a difference in its future. They recognize that this person has raw talent or intrinsic abilities and just needs someone to show them where their talents and abilities can be applied for the benefit of the organization.
You can read more about the characteristics of a mentor/mentee relationship by reading Elevate Your Project Manager Game.
What Does it Take to Be a Good Mentor?
The following 5 characteristics are foundational to mentoring.
- Being a Great Listener and Communicator - It takes time to establish a trusting relationship with a new mentee. As such, you have to show them that you care about their personal project management journey by listening carefully to what they are saying, and sometimes just as important, what they are not saying. This person may have been in a project management position and is ready to start moving forward in their career, but it may not be happening as quickly as they would like. Or, they may feel they are being overlooked for opportunities in the company. Listening and asking the right questions will help draw out personality traits and themes where you can assist this person to become better.
- Ability to Provide Constructive Feedback - Feedback and constructive criticism are necessary in order to help someone improve. If a mentee knew all the answers or did everything the right way, they wouldn’t have a need for someone like you. A mentor should have the ability to shoot straight with someone in a kind and helpful way. It’s easy for a mentee to become sensitive or defensive, but you can avoid a potentially dangerous interaction by drawing from your experience and sharing some of the missteps you’ve made in your project management career.
- Being Empathetic - “I know how you feel,” goes a long way when working with a mentee. Maybe they had a bad week and are wearing their dismay or frustration on their sleeve. You understand why they had a bad week, and that part of it may have been self-inflicted. For example, they may have expected immediate approval or positive feedback from an executive on the project they put together. However, they were told the plan wasn’t good enough and they needed to rework it. This crushed them. You understand, but based on your experience, you also always understand what the executive wants. Listen to their frustration, but also give them the insight they need to make things better.
- Letting the Mentee Drive - A mentor / mentee relationship is not a boss / manager relationship or even that of a coach. The majority of the needs, topics, direction, and decisions that come out of these sessions are driven by the mentee. You may feel like you immediately know the answer or next step that needs to be taken. But, it’s ultimately up to the mentee to make that decision and take that step, even if it’s the wrong one. Remember the adage, “give a person a fish and they’ll eat for a day, teach a person to fish and they’ll eat for a lifetime.” Your role as a mentor is to help them learn how to make good decisions on the spot, especially when you’re not around.
- Being a Role Model - I can’t hear what you’re saying over what you are doing. Never let that be the case with us! Make sure your actions speak louder than your words. If possible, let your mentee accompany you to meetings, working sessions, presentations, and maybe even one-on-one discussions with your manager or other executives. Watching you in action in both positive and less-than-positive situations will give your mentee something to imitate.
How to Get Started
How do you stack up in the five areas above? Feel like you have what it takes to be a great mentor? If so, check in with your Human Resources Department. They’ll let you know if a mentoring program is in place and where you fit. Or, the idea may just be in its infancy and you could help shape it. Another avenue to take is through a professional association such as PMI. And finally, The PMO Squad has opportunities to mentor Veterans who are looking to get into the project management space.
Mentoring is a huge act of kindness, and there’s no greater reward or payoff than to make a difference in another person’s life. Now, go ahead and pay for that person’s order in the car behind you!
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