Do you know what month it is?

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I do.  January is National Mentoring Month. Created in 2002 by the Harvard School of Public Health and MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership, National Mentoring Month focuses national attention on the need for mentors, as well as how each of us—individuals, businesses, government agencies, schools, faith communities and nonprofits—can work together to increase the number of mentors to assure brighter futures for our young people. 

What exactly is mentoring? It’s most often defined as a professional relationship in which an experienced person
(the mentor) assists another (the mentoree) in developing specific skills and knowledge helps to enhance the less-experienced person’s professional and personal growth.

Mentoring young people is critical for obvious reasons but not to be overlooked is that these young people are the leaders of tomorrow and will be making decisions that will affect us when we are older smiley.  Mentoring is vital in the female community too. Women have so much to teach eachother.  It is important when thinking about mentoring to know that the age gap is not that important and neither is your own “status”. Because to be a mentor, you really don't need special skills or a big title, sometimes the best mentors just have an ability to listen and to offer friendship, guidance and encouragement.  It also doesn’t have to be just in the workplace, it can happen in your community, school, or a faith based community too. Many companies and national organizations have formal mentoring programs but some of the best mentoring can also happen organically. Perhaps someone you meet at an industry event, a book club or even the gym and begin a conversation.

So what does a mentor really do?

The following are amongst some of the classic mentor functions:

  • Teaches about a specific issue
  • Coaches on a particular skill
  • Facilitates growth by sharing resources and networks
  • Challenges the “mentoree” to move beyond his or her comfort zone
  • Creates a safe learning environment for taking risks
  • Focuses on the “mentoree’s” total development

Why it works.

  • Having someone in your “corner” can help outline and achieve your goals and it feels good.
  • Your partnership is all about you; your specific work and personal development needs.  What is better than that?
  • It is flexible in terms of how it is delivered, what works for you and your mentor? Perhaps a coffee once a month, a phone call, lunch at a new restaurant, whatever works. It is up to you two.
  • It is independent of employment relationships that may sometimes makes self-disclosure and honest feedback difficult

A common trend in the mentoring world right now is “reverse-mentoring”. According to the Wall Street Journal, it is born from an effort to school senior executives in technology, social media and the latest workplace trends. The trend is taking off at a range of companies, from tech to advertising. The benefits for the older mentoree range from technical skills, learning about new facets of youth culture that make it easier for them to manage to younger employees to other new skills. The younger mentor gains insight into top management, visibility within the organization and the opportunity to ask questions like balancing career and motherhood, or how to work successfully in a male dominated industry. It's proving to be a win-win.

When I think about the mentors in my own life, I am so very thankful to have had them. They have not all been formal relationships some grew out of common interests and/or friendship. But they all have taught me so many life lessons well beyond the professional. They are relationships I cherish. I only hope that I have and continue to give back that same value to others as a mentor.  Think about doing the same.

Have you had any special mentors in your life?  What have you learned? Have you thought about becoming a mentor or finding a mentor?

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