The beginning of the year is a time when organizations nationwide celebrate the importance of mentoring youth. I’m particularly tuned in this year because I was recently accepted into a mentor program at an academy for young men and women who are getting their lives on track by completing a high school diploma. The opportunity to have a personal mentor during formidable years can change the trajectory of a mentee’s life. I have also found that providing personal guidance to a young person or guiding the development of young professionals can have an equally profound impact on a mentor’s life.
Mentorship is in my DNA. My parents were teachers and natural mentors, so their approach to helping me solve problems involved (1) creating an environment in which I was comfortable approaching them, (2) providing encouragement and growth opportunities and (3) engaging in active listening. While sharing concerns with my dad, I remember him nodding a lot and saying very little. He gave me space to “talk it out” and eventually arrive at solutions on my own. Those one-way conversations taught me how to be an active listener and a solid mentor, and I took those skills with me into the military, the business world and my personal life.
Structured mentorship programs are also built into military life. Soldiers are encouraged to seek guidance directly from the highest commander, who is required to have an open-door policy. My door revolved daily as soldiers would come to me looking for guidance on mostly family or personal issues; some of those young soldiers contacted me for advice years after our military careers had ended.
While I do believe a mentor-mentee relationship is mutually beneficial, the rewards I have gained from being a mentor have transformed me personally and informed me who I am as a leader. Mentorship is altruistic, and helping people can make us happy; it’s been shown to increase endorphins. My well-being improves when I help others succeed.
My leadership philosophy includes placing a high value on mentoring employees. Leaders often struggle with how they can fit mentoring into their tightly packed schedules. I bring the operational experience, decision making and strategic acumen when it’s needed, but I put a significant amount of trust in my management team to keep the daily operations moving forward successfully. This alleviates the need for micro-managing and creates time in my schedule for mentoring.
When managers mentor, I believe it benefits the organization in many ways. It creates a culture where employees are encouraged to leverage professional development from internal senior professionals, creating an employee base with strong company affinity, which in turn can build a pipeline of the next generation of managers (who prioritize mentoring). Senior leaders can introduce young professionals to networks that can open new doors, enhancing opportunities for upward mobility.
Developing a culture of mentorship within my organization has not only created opportunities for younger professionals to attain practical advice but also to learn that leaders are approachable. Imagine a scenario where employees can converse informally with a CEO without feeling like they are in the “principal’s office.”
I believe prioritizing mentorship has increased employee satisfaction and engagement in my company, which has led to increased productivity. But the real reason why I do it is that I want people to be the very best version of themselves that they can be, both personally and professionally, and I believe that can happen when you have someone in your life who has walked the walk, experienced life and overcome similar challenges.
When you create intentional space for mentoring, you will be happier knowing you have helped young professionals achieve their potential, and your organization will benefit from growth-minded employees who value their jobs — reasons enough for me to prioritize mentorship and keep my door open every day.