“The biggest reward I get out of mentoring isn’t the success that I happen to help create for the mentee I am working with. What really gets me excited is thinking about all of the people this person will touch and affect by virtue of their success.”
Learning as a Mentor
By John Coleman, Managing Director + Principal of 1123IT, DXLabs.org, and 1123Interactive
There are numerous lessons I have learned as a mentor, many of which I firmly believe I would not have learned any other way.
Learning how to listen
First and foremost, I learned how to listen. It sounds funny, but as a leader especially, it can be really easy to get into the default mode of being the one listened to all of the time.
By striving to help others, the first key is to actually hear them. What questions are they asking? What questions aren’t they asking? How are their experiences/needs different from mine? How can I actually be of best help to them?
Listening is a lifelong skill. No matter how good we think we are at it there is still opportunity to get better. Properly developed, in my opinion, this is a critical skill. Not only in learning to listen so that we can help others, but learning to listen, really listen, to our markets, our employees, our customers, etc.
Bubbles are funny things, seeming to construct themselves both automatically and silently, lulling us into our own personal echo chambers. Working to pop these bubbles, or at least acknowledge and challenge them, is one of the critical skills to be successful in any business endeavor over the long-term.
It is so fascinating to witness how the younger generation does things. As digital natives, younger people often have a completely different outlook on how to communicate and build relationships.
It’s so easy to simply stick with habits/tactics that have worked in the past, but that can be a recipe for obsolescence. Watching how the younger generation does things helps reignite a lot of the curiosity and interest I had when I was just starting out.
Connecting with beginners can be invigorating not only because of the opportunities to share knowledge and experience, but also the opportunity to look at new things in new ways. Opportunities to really look at how people do things now. What people’s needs are now. How markets really work now.
After being in business for a while it can be easy to get stuck in rote patterns, or become cynical about business. By connecting with someone just starting out we get reminded about what is really possible. We can reconnect with the reasons we started our first business. We can resurrect our enthusiasm for the possibilities entrepreneurship can bring, channeling our energy into the support and encouragement of another.
Getting better at solving problems
By looking at current market needs through the eyes of a new businessperson, all sorts of previously undiscovered connections appear. Tremendous learning happens on both sides, as the perspectives of both mentor and mentee are expanded. More than that, though, by working to help solve problems for another we become better problem-solvers ourselves.
In running a business, or several, it can be really easy for our thinking to stagnate, to get stuck in ruts. By lifting off of our own problems while working to solve someone else’s problems, we give our own minds the chance to take a break from constant focus on our own issues. This not only allows a very welcome respite, but also seems to allow our subconscious mind to more passively chew on things with the aide of added information/perspective, a widened approach that can be brought to bear on future problems as well.
Countless times I have come up with a solution for someone else’s problem only to realize that a similar answer is the exact idea I had been falling short in coming up with. So much so that when I am wrestling with a particularly thorny issue I will often seek out others I can help with similar issues.
This seems to open up new pathways in my thinking plus it removes the emotional charge of trying to solve a pressing problem for myself. My view is widened because I am naturally more objective and less subject to prior habits when trying to solve a problem for someone else. This often leads to both novel thinking and previously unconsidered approaches.
Being reminded that we are all connected
Perhaps the biggest thing that I have learned from mentoring is how both inescapable and vital our connection is to other human beings.
To be frank, the biggest reward I get out of mentoring isn’t the success that I happen to help create for the mentee I am working with. What really gets me excited is thinking about all of the people this person will touch and affect by virtue of their success.
I’ve been very lucky to have already seen this play out. Having been a mentor to entrepreneurs since 2004 I’ve already been able to see those whom I have mentored start mentoring others.
It is my belief that any success that we achieve has embedded in it the responsibility to reach back and help others behind us. In all candor, that has been the most fulfilling part of this work, seeing this virtuous circle both complete and continue, seeing the network effects of service to another not only compound but replicate to future generations.
As a mentor I get to witness both the success of others and their impact on those they interact with because of it. I get to be the one cheering on talent and drive. I get to be a spectator to someone else’s growth and success. I get to see new things brought into the world, new problems being solved, new customers delighted.
More than anything, mentoring has been a gift. I feel grateful to be able to be of service to others, and I am beyond grateful for the incredible lessons my mentees have imparted on me.