Mentors continually invest in themselves so that others can reap the benefits. As a mentor, you have to keep learning in order to set the example and to keep evolving the knowledge that you impart. The mark of a truly inspiring mentor is when others come to you to learn because you have built knowledge and wisdom, built relationships and built a personal brand that inspires.
Build knowledge and wisdom and then share it
I firmly believe that knowledge and experience which is shared reaps ten times the benefits. This is one of the reasons why I love the parable about Growing Good Corn. It tells the story of a farmer with award-winning crops who shared his special seeds with his neighbours. When asked why, this was his response:
"The wind picks up pollen from the ripening corn and swirls it from field to field. If my neighbours grow inferior corn, cross-pollination will steadily degrade the quality of my corn. If I am to grow good corn, I must help my neighbours grow good corn."
You don’t just want to be a mentor; you want to be a mentor of mentors. This means that those whom you inspire must be encouraged to inspire others which will effectively multiply your efforts. Robert Heinlein describes it as follows: “When one teaches, two learn”. There is no point in keeping your wisdom to yourself. Set it free so that it can change the world and benefit you in turn.
Build relationships through understanding
Steve Jobs told another inspiring parable about how stones in a rock tumbler polish each other to become their best selves. We should not shy away from conflict, but rather learn to understand ourselves and others to manage conflict and grow as a consequence. You cannot be a mentor if you are unable to connect on a personal level and have the necessary tough conversations to help others develop. This requires knowing what switches others on or off.
We are but our thoughts. As René Descartes said: “I think therefore I am.” If our thoughts determine who we are, we should diligently guard what we allow our minds to ponder. As a mentor, you should also guard the minds of those in our care. This means leveraging what inspires them (switches them on) and helping them overcome what demotivates them (switches them off).
Entrench and enrich learnings by being the example
It is often said that children will do what you do rather than what you say. In mentorship, I would like to take this one step further by highlighting that your mentees will pay more attention to who you are than to what you say or do. I often phrase it like this: It is not about doing, it’s the being that inspires.
Being a mentor requires having a believable personal brand that forms the foundation of everything that you would like to impart. Therefore, don’t neglect building your personal brand while building your knowledge. Your mentees must believe in you before they will believe in what you say.
There is no better acknowledgement than someone excitedly and proudly pointing out “That’s our leader” or even more so “That’s my mentor”.
A mentor is effectively a farmer who cultivates knowledge. If you do this effectively, the knowledge you impart will not only be passed on, but it will spark new research and learnings that could benefit you in turn.
Having worked as a business leader for a big corporate, run my own business for 12 years and coached and facilitated to so many organisations, I can comfortably say that is not about leadership; it is about humanship. Mentors don’t lead – they are just awesome human beings.