Why do so many people struggle to find mentors?
Not advisors. Or people to bounce ideas off.
Real mentors. Those that invest proper time and effort in proactively guiding mentees in their careers.
There is an interesting story I can tell here.
A couple of weeks ago, I met an accomplished professional at a networking event. We discussed the importance of prioritising people at work, on which he narrated the story about one of his employees, “The Junior.”
The Junior asked the company management for support at work to help him find his feet. His line manager (the person I was speaking to), i.e., “The Manager,” was instructed to mentor The Junior by the CEO, i.e., “The Ultimate Boss.” The Manager’s immediate reaction to this mentoring order was in the nature of a mild pushback. He said, something along the following lines:
“I need help too. Who is going to help me?“
That is interesting, isn’t it? Managers need just as much help and guidance as their juniors. I have heard stories of people going through most of their professional lives without proper mentorship. These people found success but would have, from what I understood, benefitted from good guidance.
But mentors are still tough to find.
The below themes have emerged in my recent conversations that explain why mentorship is a rare jewel:
- The attributes that mentorship demands in a person are just not part of some people’s personality. This would explain why only some people in fact choose to become a mentor.
- Many will make great mentors but need to be more inspired to invest the time and effort required.
- Many good mentors invest too much time and effort in their mentees, and often get overwhelmed and disengage. Such mentors tend to pick their mentees carefully.
The first bullet is beyond most people’s control. Relationships cannot be forced. I am therefore leaving that point out of this blog post.
THOSE UNWILLING TO MENTOR PROBABLY NEED SOME INSPIRATION AND SUPPORT
Mentorship is tough. It is time-consuming given the high-impact nature of the relationship. Both the mentor and the mentee need to be motivated, committed, and interested.
In the story above, The Manager struck me as someone who would make an excellent mentor. But something clearly was holding him back from putting in the time and effort required.
When I thought about this in detail, I could not help but see clear reasons as to why people within an organisation might hesitate to sign up as mentors for fellow colleagues.
Why should people make time in their lives to mentor someone? What is in it for them?
Sure, the cause is noble. But where is the time amidst deadlines to train someone with care?
The problem becomes even more acute if we expect mentorship from managers who themselves have no mentors within an organisation.
How can one support others when they don’t feel supported?
To address The Manager’s problem in the above story, The Ultimate Boss established a mentorship arrangement for The Manager. This helped The Manager feel supported while also giving him the space to mentor The Junior.
Ruthlessness sparks ruthlessness. Support sparks support.
Perhaps the first solution to inspire more senior leaders to mentor is to acknowledge their needs and provide them with support they need.
Another solution could be, perhaps, to design proper recognition and reward schemes for those employees who volunteer to mentor colleagues.
When organisations understand and acknowledge the time investment made by certain colleagues to help others within the organisation to rise and shine, it might make mentors feel that taking a break from their work is indeed worthwhile.
MENTORS ARE HUMANS WHO CAN BURNOUT
People are generally reliable, until they are not. They are available, until they are not. And they are emotionally invested, until they are not.
Love or hate it, when you rely on people for anything, chances are that you will be disappointed at one point or the other.
Because people are humans at the end of the day.
“Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about,” goes a saying.
Mentorship requires huge time commitment. In many instances, mentors often get emotionally invested in their mentee’s lives, which can make the mentorship relationship even more high stakes. A mentor is expected to be available for their mentees, but not always. There are days and times when they have to, and very much should, prioritise their well-being – particularly when a mentor is feeling too depleted to engage in mentoring.
There are ways for mentors to manage being in a tough spot, without feeling guilty about not dedicating enough time to their mentees. This article by Harvard Business Review provides excellent guidance on how mentors should look after themselves:
- Identify and manage burnout risks, for instance, by asking trusted colleagues to check your health.
- Conserve your mentoring efforts by diversifying mentorship avenues, for instance, through group sessions or by encouraging peer mentoring.
- Make mentoring fun so that it is not energy-draining but energy-generating, for instance, by signing up for fun events together with your mentee.
- Let your mentee know if you are going through burnout so that they understand the context if you have to step away for a time period.
While a lot of people have one mentor for life, it is, in many ways, unfair to put so much pressure on one person. The best approach, I am convinced, is to diversify. It is in a mentor’s interest to encourage their mentees to seek advice from multiple sources. Should the mentor be unavailable for some reason, the mentee would still have people to engage with/or rely upon.
MAYBE MENTORSHIP IS ALSO ABOUT THE VALUE A MENTEE PROVIDES
For many mentors, the growth and success of the mentee is an excellent ROI for their efforts. That is what mentorship is all about, at the end of the day.
But can mentees offer something more?
I have come across a special rule in the field of entrepreneurship.
It is essential to give, give, give first. Value is always a two-way street, and I must first generate it.
Similarly, the more I think about it, I am convinced that mentorship is a two-way street.
Nobody expects a mentee to start teaching their mentor. We have reverse mentoring programs for that. But even in a traditional mentorship relationship, there is perhaps something special that a mentee can give to a mentor, aside from smashing their goals. Something that will be truly valuable for the mentor as they meet their deadlines and sustain the success they have achieved (which probably drew the mentee to the mentor in the first place).
What might that be? My top picks are listed below.
A belief in their mentor’s capabilities.
Support and encouragement, received from anyone, are always of great value.