What’s More Important: Being A Mentor or Having One?
In a recent blog, we unpacked some of the benefits of being mentored.
Five in particular stood out:
1. You Discover Your Blindspots
2. You Diversify Your Perspective
3. You Can Fail Well
4. You Expand Your Network
5. You Grow
In the writing process, something else emerged: when mentorship is going well, it benefits both parties.
So, our answer to the question posed in the title: neither. Both are essential. To demonstrate this, here are five benefits of being a mentor.
1. You Learn When You Teach
Have you ever had to teach a class before? Ever led a training on a specific topic? Maybe you’ve been a coach?
If you’ve been in any of these roles, then you know that when you have to teach, you learn.
Many people will report that some of their best learning was done when they had to teach. When you go through the process of teaching, training or coaching on a certain subject, you’re usually expected to have a certain level of competence on the matter.
And by being expected to have this level of competence, it often leads people to the process of attaining it. Thus, you learn when you teach.
There’s a myth nearby, however.
Myth: You Must Be A Professional To Teach, Train or Coach
Too many people miss the opportunity to mentor others because they’ve been told that they’re not “ready,” not “experienced enough.”
It certainly helps to have experience in the field or subject you’re mentoring someone in, but the idea that you must be a professional or expert in that area is a myth.
The reality is that you become an expert or professional by teaching or training when you aren’t an expert or professional. Sort of paradoxical, we know.
And even once you become an expert, you’ll likely not feel like one. This is what people refer to as the “imposter syndrome.”
It’s that experience one has when they feel like they’re seen with a certain status they themselves don’t believe they have. It’s natural and can be a good sign of humility — being aware of your limitations, in other words.
All of this applies to mentoring. You become a better mentor by being a mentor, even when you don’t feel “ready.” You may never feel “ready.” That’s okay. You’re in good company.
Just don’t forget: you learn when you teach. This is a benefit of mentoring that will only make you a better mentor.
2. You Discover What You Know
You’ve heard the saying before that goes, “you don’t know what you don’t know,” right?
Well, it’s absolutely correct. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a way to address this?
Similar to how mentees can learn their blindspots through the mentorship process, so can mentors. This is extremely valuable.
If a mentor isn’t careful, though, they can come to think that they don’t have any blindspots, that there’s not much they don’t know. This kind of attitude enters the picture discreetly and it’ll show itself in the implicit parts of their life.
Don’t let this happen to you.
Your role as a mentor provides you the perfect opportunity to discover what you don’t know. When asked a question you don’t know the answer to, resist the impulse to answer it anyway.
Instead, embrace your limits, own what you don’t know, and let it lead you into further development and growth — personally and professionally.
While discovering what you don’t know is an indispensable gift of being a mentor, it’s also very important to remember what you do know.
Benefit number three.
3. What You Know Doesn’t Go To Waste
No one likes to waste valuable resources. One’s experience and knowledge are among these valuable resources.
They’re the reason you’ve been call upon to mentor in the first place. You know things. You’ve experienced things.
By entering the position of a mentor, what you know and what you’ve experienced will not go to waste. Your knowledge and experiences live on.
The question is, how exactly is this a benefit to the mentor?
We’re learning a lot from the science community about the neuroscience of generosity.
Recent research has tracked the effects of what happens when we spend our resources — like money, for example — on others instead of ourselves.
The results? That we experience higher levels of happiness when we spend on others rather than ourselves.
Can you think of a specific time when you did this? Have you ever purchased food for the person behind you in the fast food drive through? Ever gone out of your way to deliver food or resources to those in need?
Chances are you experienced an increased sense of purpose, a bit of proudness over your actions, and, consequently, more happiness.
All of this extends rather perfectly to the domain of mentorship. When you give, you receive.
It’s within your power to not miss out on this benefit.
But we think that there’s more to give than merely your knowledge. Here’s what we mean. Benefit number four.
4. Who YOU ARE Doesn’t Go To Waste
One of our team members had a mentor who would say to him,
“You teach what you know, you replicate who you are.”
Our team member will tell you that this is one of the greatest mentorship principles he ever learned.
What you know can often be stated in terms of facts written down on a piece of paper. Who you are cannot.
That’s because who you are is matter of a million different things like:
- How you respond to criticism
- Your approach to conflict resolution
- The way you care for your team
These are traits which you observe in person, not facts to be memorized and then applied.
For this reason, who you are is something that can go to waste if you’re not intentional about replicating it in someone else. A similar principle to this is “more is caught than taught.”
Age-old wisdom: people tend to learn more from time spent being in relationship with others than they do from reading a book or a blog. This is why we’re using this blog to tell you to pursue mentorship!
By being a mentor, who you are doesn’t go to waste.
Lastly, the most obvious benefit.
5. You Grow
This benefit is sort of the culmination of the previous four; it’s what happens as a result of these other benefits.
We don’t want to overcomplicate this, but the truth is: you grow when you mentor people.
You learn what you don’t know.
You give away what you do know.
You understand at a deeper level the value of time.
You’re invested in the future, not just the present.
By mentoring others, you grow. You develop.
You become better than you were.
These benefits are here for the taking and only yours to lose. And remember: it needn’t look like an hour every week, in person, for the rest of your life.
It can be a bi-annual phone call.
A few lunches.
Some brief emails.
Or all of the above. Or none of the above and something else.
It’s a flexible relationship. That’s part of what makes it so beautiful.
Today we challenge you to enter into a mentor relationship!
If you need some help with how to start, you can find fellow innovators and entrepreneurs looking for mentorship on our platform, Univa: a place for students, staff, faculty and alumni of universities looking for connection with fellow innovators, entrepreneurs and creatives around the world.