With the holiday seasons approaching here in the U.S., it is common to ramp up the conversation around reflecting and around ‘giving thanks’. I am turning 40 this year, so the ‘reflecting’ piece has been a constant. As chance would have it I was recently at a handful of ‘Look who’s turning 40’ birthday celebrations, and in turn have been running into a number of folks who have played important roles in my life, both professionally and personally.
This got me thinking not only about the influence each of these folks had on me in terms of how he/she helped me, but even more so about the qualities each of them possessed that made them someone I was willing to reach out to for guidance, support, and as a model of how I would hope to carry myself down the road. In effect, what made them, in the Greek mythological sense, a mentor-someone who was a faithful and wise adviser.
What Makes an Effective Mentor?
After looking for patterns in behavior, personalities, context and the like, I was able to find 3-ish common traits or aspects of what, for me, made an effective mentor. He/she was someone who was/is…
- PATIENT: I am the last person to want to wait for anything. Once I get an idea or a push, I am running 90miles and hour. What I have learned is that this always isn’t the best strategy, especially since much of life is about timing. Some of the more influential people in my life have been able to step in, step back, help speed things up, or help slow things down when I needed it the most. Working through each stage of the learning and growing process at a rate that works for the individual is crucial. It is essential that a mentor understands this process and the individual he/she is guiding, and has the patience to allow for these two aspects play out accordingly–mistakes, steps backwards, repetitive conversations included.
- HONEST: Sometimes the truth hurts or can be tough to hear; but to not be given honest, constructive feedback actually does the person seeking guidance a disservice. I can clearly recall a pivotal instance in which I was given two pieces of advice- 1 that I ‘wanted’ to hear and 1 that I ‘had’ to hear. After working through the emotions of both and then seeing the results that the ‘honest’ feedback yielded, I realized how important it was that I put my ego aside and take in the reality of the situation. It is important to note the type of trusting relationship this mentor had built with me over time allowed her to be very open, very honest, and very truthful with her guidance and advice…whether I wanted to hear it or not.
- SELF-REFLECTIVE & GROWTH-MINDED: I originally had these two separated, but as I started to really think (and write) about them, I decided to combine them for my “3rd-ish”. It is hard to help lead others in ways that one does not practice him/herself. The folks who have come in and out of my life and career that have had that lasting impact have been models of change, of growth, of someone who works each day to better him/herself. I have also found that these folks are very open to others’ suggestions and ideas, and very often are a collective example of their own life’s experiences. Consequently, they are also very positive and proactive when it comes to change. Rarely were these individuals who easily got brought down into the negativity that so very easily permeates any type of ‘new’ or ‘change’. They were always the ones who immediately began looking at the positive side of ‘if this is a good thing how can we make this work’. With the crazy, fast paced changes happening in Education and beyond, being self-reflective and growth-minded is SO important to put into practice and to model for those who are looking for ways to keep moving forward.
Why Is Having/Being a Mentor So Important?
Outside of staying on track and at times keeping your sanity, when you really take the time to analyze it, the trickle down effect of influence is mind-blowing. Recently, I was listening to AJ Juliani http://ajjuliani.com/ give a Keynote Address, and in it he laid out some numbers related to a teacher’s impact over time:
- In 10 years a teacher will impact approximately 1000 students, as well as 3 mentees.
- In 20 years a teacher will impact approximately 8500 students, as well as 8 mentees (who each have 3 mentees of their own).
- Over a 30 year career a teacher will impact approximately 49,500 students, as well as 15 mentees, who each have 3 mentees of their own, and those mentees also have 3 mentees of their own).
So along with roughly 50,000 students, a single teacher can impact approximately 135 other educators…not counting any extra-curricular work that teacher takes on through which his/her network can grow.
What lies in all of this is an opportunity–an opportunity to be supportive, caring, positive, challenging, inspiring, and helpful. Not a small task, and even more the reason to be deliberate and cognizant of how we all live out either the mentor or the mentee relationship at times because, at the end of the day, our students are the ones who eventually get the benefits of those interactions.
So take some time to enjoy the holidays and thank someone who has had that positive influence on you, and therefore those around you!