Young or Old – Mentor, to Sharpen Your Axe

Mentoring is one of the best ways to learn in business. 

Insightful advice and support from experienced professionals who have walked the walk before us, can really help propel our careers.

And yet, not many people seek out mentors or use them regularly.

Part of the reason for this, is the fear that mentees are the only beneficiary of the mentoring relationship. This is not true. In a healthy, well matched mentoring relationship, both the mentor and mentee can benefit.

It is so important to understand why mentors do this vital role – understanding this will show you the benefits so that you (and others) reach out and form new mentoring relationships, to accelerate you to those goals.

So, here are my thoughts, based on my own experiences of why I continue to invest my time in being both a mentor and mentee.

The Oxytocin Rush - Part I 

If you open yourself up for mentoring, you will be blessed with several kicks of oxytocin - the chemical which promotes wellbeing and can help fight depression and anxiety, amongst other mental health conditions.

By being asked to mentor and accepting - you will receive a rush of this powerful drug.  Oxytocin is released when we help people. Whether this is a stranger or someone we know well. (This is a great article which talks about the Science of Kindness and how oxytocin works.)

Oxytocin is also released when we make a social bond with another human. For example, kicking off a new mentoring relationship.

So just by being asked to mentor you will receive a pleasurable ‘kick’ from the beginning of the relationship.

Lucky for us this oxytocin feels so good - we will want more…

The Oxytocin Rush - Part II

In 2019 whilst studying coaching at Henley - which is so relevant to this second rush, I was asked why I was interested in coaching and I talked about the lightbulbs I see in people’s eyes after a coaching session.

Now whilst coaching is very different to mentoring - coaching being about helping the coachee find their own answers whereas being a mentor is more about sharing relevant stories and advice which may help the mentee - the feelings you get after a session are nevertheless the same.

You now find yourself in a mentoring conversation and start to navigate your mentee’s challenges. Perhaps it’s a really tricky subject. A difficult conversation at work, or hazardous path to a promotion. 

By spending time with the mentee to help guide, advise and plot the road ahead - something miraculous regularly happens.

You can see a little switch flicked in the mentee’s eyes. Like a lightbulb.

Perhaps the path becomes clearer. Perhaps the issue becomes smaller or less distorted.

The lightbulb is when you see the switch flicked and something that was a challenge in the beginning becomes more manageable.

Personally, this gives me such a rush!

And this rush is for me as the mentee. The rush comes from helping someone, again the release of oxytocin. I have helped by shedding some light or offered some sort of support which they have found useful. 

This is one of the greatest gifts of being a manager or leader. 

Our job every day is to help ‘flick the switches’ in our employees - but why stop there? Why not seek out more relationships to help switch on the lightbulbs?

Oxytocin - Part III - The Finale

Then imagine the overwhelming rush when you catch up with the mentee some weeks later, after they have been plotting the path to a promotion or discussed a challenging relationship and they come back to update you.

Issues resolved.

Or

Mentee promoted.

Or

Started the business they always wanted to.

With progress by the mentee, you will be blessed with a huge rush of the wellbeing drug - giving you a lift for the days ahead.

So, 3 big doses of oxytocin in one relationship and interaction. That’s a powerful reason why mentors want to mentor and keep giving up their time to help. They enjoy seeing the progress which creates the rush.

But that’s not the only reason….

Mentoring gives them a lift in their own careers.

Mentoring for Reflection

At a mentoring event with Plan B Mentoring in November, I was asked by one of the mentees why I invest my time as a mentor.

I have known about the oxytocin rush for some time but have recently discovered another great reason to help people.

The power of reflection.

When I think about reflection - I think about this old saying:

“If you want to learn something, read about it. If you want to understand something, write about it. If you want to master something, teach it.” Yogi Bhajan

By helping other people to navigate their careers or business challenges, this gives me an opportunity to reflect on what I am doing in my own job, career, and everyday life.

Often by helping someone else, I have a revelation or take action about something I need to do for myself.

This brings me back to the saying - to master - teach.

Just by thinking and then articulating some ideas back to the mentee, the experience provides ‘clarity on issues I am working through’. 

It gives me an opportunity to sharpen the axe.

And anyone can use this same opportunity to get ahead.

Only ‘Old’ or ‘Experienced’ People Mentor

Young or old, you have lots to offer and you are never too young to mentor.

Reverse-mentoring when younger colleagues mentor more experienced colleagues has been all the rage in recent years.

Seasoned professionals get an opportunity to understand the younger generations - useful for people management or where the demographic of their customer base is made up of younger generations. 

Reverse mentoring gives great insights into thinking and buying patterns which can help organisations disrupt and innovate.

But younger generations can also mentor colleagues or school leavers to find the same oxytocin rush or reflections to help them in their career.

A great source of mentoring opportunities is ELSA Education - who provide local mentoring programmes for school leavers. Anyone can provide mentoring support and often those with the most recent experience have a lot to offer.

Again, by mentoring those around you - the clarity found by the process of mentoring, will help your career and aspirations, as much as theirs. It’s like free coaching for yourself!

So Young or Old - Mentor to Sharpen Your Axe

Whether you are young or old, or in between - there are so many reasons to mentor.

I’ve heard all the objections about ‘I don’t have time’ or ‘I am not experienced enough’ - all are internal distortions and false assertions. We all have something to offer, we are all role models and if you can’t find time to sharpen the axe… well... you will take a long time to cut the wood.

A little help to others, goes a long way to helping ourselves.

 

Additional Resources:

Science of Kindness

An invitation to appreciate yourself as a role model

Recommended Mentoring Programmes:

ELSA Education - Opportunities for mentoring

Founders for Schools - Opportunities for mentoring

Plan B Mentoring - Opportunities for mentoring and to find a mentor

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