During the course of my life, I’ve had many mentors -- most of them didn’t even know it.
They were businessmen and women whose leadership style struck a chord with me. Inspirational figures who achieved in the areas where I wanted to find success. Over time, some of them became close friends. All of them helped me greatly.
As the CEO of a self storage property management company, I am always on the lookout for organizational tools and processes that will positively influence my team. Increasingly, I have found mentorship to be one of the biggest factors contributing to the development of leaders within our organization.
Today’s workplace is changing and team members expect their jobs to be more than just a way to pay the bills. They are looking for opportunity, purpose, and fulfillment. Mentorship provides an avenue for individuals in a corporation to empower themselves. With the guidance of someone they respect, mentees have the opportunity to take their career to the next level.
For any company, even informal mentorship can be a an organizational boon in terms of team member retention, lowered training costs, company culture adoption, and customer service performance.
By investing in our people through mentorship, we enable and motivate them to give our customers the best service possible. I believe this “focus on people” is largely responsible for our continued success.
We’ve been fortunate enough to have many team members who are willing to give back, which is why we are planning to roll out a more formal mentorship program during the next year. The hope is to systematize and build upon our informal mentorship culture.
If you think mentorship is a business development tool reserved for top level management, you would be mistaken. Anyone can find the right mentor and any organization can benefit from pairing like minded team members in a mentorship program.
The Mentor/Mentee Relationship
There are many reasons one might seek mentorship: developing business acumen, furthering personal development or practicing a hobby. Mentorships can be lifelong, life-changing opportunities or short, transitory relationships. It’s likely that a person will have a number of mentors over their lifetime, even multiple mentors at the same time.
The point is that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to mentorship. The terms, time commitment, area of study, and depth of a relationship are completely dependent on the individuals engaged in mentoring. The real starting point for mentorship is rooted in a shared interest. Recognizing individuals whose leadership style resonates with you is the first step to finding prospective mentors. Moving from acquaintance to mentor takes a little more, but can be quite easy.
How to Develop an Informal Mentor/Mentee Relationship
Mentorship is a powerful tool that can be transformative. If you don’t have someone in mind already start by getting involved in your industry. Attend events. Make introductions. Talk about what you are passionate about with anyone who will listen and figure out who shares those feelings.
It can be scary at first, especially for introverts like myself, but if you put yourself out there with earnest authenticity, you will connect with people whose passions align with yours.
Once you find someone who might be a good mentor, simply ask if they are willing to help. The commitment does not have to be large to begin. A simple, leisurely email correspondence can be a good start.
No matter the mentoring relationship you find yourself creating, it will be more successful if you follow a few simple rules of thumb.
- Clearly define your goals.
- Check egos at the door
- Encourage an atmosphere free of judgement.
It is also important that both parties allow themselves to be vulnerable. For the mentee, this includes asking questions without fear, sharing shortcomings, being open to constructive criticism, and active self reflection. For the mentor, this includes fostering open communication, using past experiences to illustrate lessons, patience, and teaching skills.
The Responsibilities and Rewards of Being a Mentor
“If there is anything I can do to help you, please do not hesitate to reach out to me.”
It’s a phrase I have spoken many times and have always meant. What’s surprising is the small number of people who actually follow up with me after showing interest. Only about 20% of the people I say that to reach out once. Of those, a vastly smaller number follow up again.
No matter the number, I feel a responsibility to give back to the self storage community and help raise up those who are earlier on in their professional and personal journey. Building a career is difficult. Building a life even more so.
Along the way, people need to be inspired, educated, and pointed in the right direction. These are the basic responsibilities of a mentor. By asking questions that challenge the mentee, listening to their answers, and giving constructive feedback, mentors create a space where growth accelerates and knowledge is transferred.
Mentors are in a unique position in that they can help a mentee understand the bigger picture and their place within it. This understanding then becomes a reference point that can be used to encourage the mentee to take on more responsibility.
When I first started being a mentor, I didn’t realize I would learn as much, if not more, than my mentees. The majority of my experience is in real estate development and management, not teaching and coaching.
The biggest lesson I have learned from being a mentor is that no one person knows everything. Mentees have helped me kick the tires on my own knowledge and beliefs more times than I can count. Younger mentees have taught me a great deal about generational differences in communication, technology and more..
As mentees grow and build upon the knowledge imparted to them, the roles begin to reverse somewhat. A mentor can learn a great deal by seeing how their teachings are used to innovate and transform.
In this way, mentorship is a two way street to personal and professional development. I think it’s safe to say that both being a mentor and being mentored has brought a great deal of knowledge and joy to my life. I hope you and your team decide to invest the minimal time and effort necessary to explore mentorship to see if it works for you.