If you were to find yourself feeling a bit reflective about your career and paused to consider what had the greatest impact on your successes along the way, it’s likely some key people would come to mind. The relationships you had with these individuals may have varied in formality, but you could likely describe very specific ways they affected your development professionally, personally or both. These people were your mentors, regardless of whether it was intentional and formalized or not; their influence helped bring you clarity, inspiration, confidence and knowledge.
As you envision these people, did you ever stop to consider that their acts of providing guidance actually helped them grow along with you? Here are three ways you can improve your own leadership capacity by actively giving the benefit of your experience to someone else:
- Serving as an effective mentor means you’re making a commitment to offer honest feedback and constructive criticism. Providing this in a way that actually builds a mentee’s capacity requires diplomacy and a solid understanding of what the mentee truly needs—which comes only through observation and active listening. Leaders aren’t necessarily born with this skill set, but making a conscious effort to really support another person’s growth by taking the time to learn about them and offer meaningful guidance can have the added benefit of honing the mentor’s own listening and communication skills. The self-awareness that results from understanding the impact of your words on another person is valuable in literally every relationship you have, personally and professionally.
- Necessary components of any mentor-mentee relationship are honesty and trust. These elements are also absolutely critical to high performing teams—and must be continuously cultivated and nurtured by leaders. Not everyone arrives at a point of open honesty and a place of trust in the same way or at the same time, but serving as a mentor can help leaders who struggle with this by allowing them to let down some of their barriers to expose their own vulnerabilities. Many of the best life and work lessons are learned through mistakes and missteps, and when you can share your own fallibilities with honesty and humility, you inspire the kind of trust that allows others to feel they can be authentic with you.
- Offering guidance to another person based upon your own experience requires self-reflection. Leaders frequently find themselves pressing ever-forward without pausing to think subjectively about their own personal and career paths—where they went right or how they could have done things better for themselves or for others. As a mentor, imparting what you’ve learned through your own experiences allows you the opportunity to revisit your own past, an important step to securing a better future. Sharing your path with another person can actually reveal things you might not have otherwise considered about yourself, and offer you the chance to improve or even altogether change your future course.
At Milestone Leadership, we believe leaders worth following understand the impact of sharing their own past experiences with transparency and intention. By revealing ourselves to others, we come to understand our own behaviors and contributions in ways that help us to be stronger future leaders.
Kelly Hale Syer