Making The Case For Mentorship: Why It Matters And Who Benefits Most
Originally published on Forbes on October 26, 2023
What is one experience that nearly all colleagues, executives and innovators across every industry share? The opportunity to mentor. Many leaders publicly acknowledge the significant roles that mentors played in their success. Most executives elect to serve as one for younger staff or emerging leaders. Throughout my more than 30 years in philanthropy, I’ve been privileged to have mentors who have boosted and guided me. I have been honored to pay it forward, both inside and outside my workplace. With that in mind, I’d like to share some insights on the importance and benefits of giving back through mentorship.
The Benefits Of Mentorship
There are benefits of both workplace and less formal mentorship: Junior employees gain experience, exposure, advice and advocacy, and senior leaders develop management skills, loyal teams and collaboration. Beyond developing talent, mentorship can help foster a culture of respect and compassion. It’s a way we can “pay it forward” in supporting the future.
The benefits of mentorship can also reverberate through an organization. Mentor programs, both formal and informal, are known to increase employee engagement and retention. One job satisfaction survey found that 91% of employees who have mentors say they’re happy in their jobs. Those with mentors are also more likely to consider themselves well-paid and believe their contributions are valued, both of which strongly correlate to retention.
The high cost of replacing employees and the negative effects of high turnover should mean it’s time to look at mentoring as an employee benefit that reaps diverse benefits.
Why The Right Mentor Matters
Being a mentor requires a combination of time and emotional commitment. Traits like emotional intelligence and strategic thinking skills are key. Not everyone can serve as a mentor. In many cases, mentorship often proves most valuable when it happens organically. Trust and communication are the foundation of a good mentoring relationship.
This has never been more important than it is today when remote work and digital communication can limit interpersonal relationships. Early in my fundraising career, I had a mentor who invited me to meetings with donors, allowed me to take phone calls with her and took the time to coach and support me. I learned so much just by observing. I heard what she said but also how she said it and how people reacted. I still believe that inviting more junior staff to join “the room where it happens” is one of the fastest ways to help share knowledge, encourage critical thinking and solve problems.
I also believe that for a mentoring relationship to be successful, it is imperative for mentors to think beyond their own career history and experience. The goal of being a mentor is not to create a carbon copy of yourself; it is to support and guide the next generation to be the kind of leaders they need to be. Mentors need to think about what resources, information and skills are most valuable now and in the future, not necessarily which ones helped them in the past.
How To Be A Mentor
Opportunities to be a mentor abound: Professional associations allow you to meet the next generation in your industry; board seats allow you to share your experiences with a different organization; nonprofit organizations with missions to match mentors and mentees expose you to entirely new audiences. For me, teaching has been one of the most meaningful ways to mentor young people. I teach a graduate course at the University of Pennsylvania and am always thrilled by the energy, intellect and dedication of this rising generation. It’s enormously satisfying to share knowledge and offer guidance as my mentors did for me.
There are many ways to be a mentor. Here are three pillars I think are universal tenets of being a great mentor:
- Be curious. It is crucial that mentors are open-minded and receptive to new information, perspectives and challenges. Curiosity about your mentee will drive a deeper relationship, and interest in their experience can illuminate a different perspective. For a mentoring relationship to be mutually valuable, both parties have to be willing to learn new things.
- Be trustworthy. Transparency should be a top priority in mentoring. Mentees should feel comfortable sharing their experiences, good or bad, and know that they can receive honest, constructive feedback or guidance. That means developing trust, using discretion and being self-aware enough to know when another person or resource can be helpful.
- Be committed. Mentorship takes time—time in your schedule and time to develop. Mentoring someone means championing them in public and private and advocating for their inclusion or advancement.
Serving as a mentor—or seeking one—isn’t a responsibility to take lightly. In philanthropy, data shows that the act of charitable giving benefits the giver as well as the recipient. Mentorship has a similar exchange. Good mentors accept the responsibility knowing that they will learn and grow as much as their mentees. Understanding the benefits of mentorship and the characteristics of being a good one will yield the best results for both individuals.
NPT does not provide legal or tax advice. This blog post is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be, and shall not be relied upon as, legal or tax advice. The applicability of information contained here may vary depending on individual circumstances.