Sharing Advice that Makes an Impact
One of the traits that distinguishes ordinary leaders from exceptional ones is their intentional efforts to develop and mentor the other members of their teams. By investing in the people around us, we position our team for sustained success in both the short-term and the long-term. Beyond that, we send a message to these individuals that we’re interested in them thriving alongside us on the current journey while also setting them up for whatever they choose next.
Effective mentorship involves skills such as listening, problem solving, and content expertise. But beyond all of that, the key attribute needed from the mentor is time. Mentors who are accessible to their mentees and dedicate the time necessary to develop a deep and meaningful connection will yield a far greater return than those who rush through the development process and appear to be simply going through the motions.
Mentees feed off the authentic nature of the mentor’s efforts and tend to respond in kind. This authenticity allows conversations to be both transparent and vulnerable, and ensures that both the mentor and the mentee are drawing the best out of one another.
One thing I hear from many potential mentors is, “I’m not sure I have anything to share.” This is a common refrain, but it normally doesn’t take too long to convince the person they have far more to offer than they realize. When I work with mentees, some of the lessons I focus on sharing include:
- Remember you are a work in progress – One of the common conversations I have is listening to someone share their frustration about mishandling a specific moment or situation. In these cases, it’s important to share a reminder that each of us is a work in progress. In nearly all cases, we get the opportunity to regroup and try again tomorrow. We have to become proficient at showing ourselves the grace we deserve and celebrating the small improvements we’re making over time.
- No one other than you can define success for you – Many of us experience tremendous external pressure as others (friends, family, social media, national media, etc…) work to define what success looks like for us. Taking time away from these distractions to define what success means to us, in our own words, is critical. It’s inevitable that we’ll face crossroads over the course of our personal and professional lives. Having spent the time to reaffirm our vision for success along the way will make acting in these moments far easier.
- When you’re stuck, turn to helping someone else first – There will be times when we feel stuck in a rut and that we’re simply going through the motions. And other times when we are fixating on a problem with no clear solution. When this happens, one of the easiest ways to break out of the thinking trap is to help someone else. By offering time and energy to help someone who needs it, we accomplish two key goals. First, we make our shared community stronger by demonstrating a commitment to lifting up those around us. Second, we accomplish something. And in achieving that tangible outcome, we interrupt our stalled thinking. More often than not, when we circle back to the issue at hand, we do so with an upgraded sense of clarity and perspective.
- Life is not about intent but impact – Very little in life is about intentions. It’s about outcomes and impact. When our intentions are good and the impact is good, those are the best days. When our intentions are good but they lack action towards achieving them, the end result is no different than never having had those intentions in the first place. And when our intentions are good but the outcome is bad, our intentions don’t matter. Life is about impact. When our actions have a negative impact on others, it becomes imperative that we take accountability for our actions and put in the work to make things right.
- Develop good habits – Our personal habits tend to have a cascading effect. When we engage in one positive habit, others are likely to follow. When we choose one negative habit, others are likely to develop as well. The habits we develop frame the way we interact with ourselves, those around us, and our community as a whole. One of my personal habits is going to bed early. When I go to bed early, I know other related habits will fall into place in my day. The chances I will eat better, exercise, and step away from my screens all increase. They work in concert with one another. Professionally, the same pattern emerges. When I make good choices at work, like walking around the campus and connecting with others in their spaces, many of the other professional behaviors I value fall into line, too.
- Read, read, read – The expression is cliché, but I genuinely believe that leaders are readers. I encourage others to read. Whether they settle on emerging titles in their industry, books about hobbies and topics that excite them, or novels doesn’t matter. In fact, the best advice might be to settle on some combination of the three. By doing a lot of reading, we expose ourselves to a lot of ideas. And these ideas stay with us as we look to challenge, be innovative, and drive change in our environments.
- Say “no” less. Say “yes” more – Amy Poehler and Tina Fey are two of the greatest comedians of our generation. After having recently read each of their biographies, I was struck by the fact that both spoke about a key rule in the world of improv. The rule was to never say no. In their space, saying no killed the scene and left the other actors no where to go. Instead, they learned to say yes and see where things went from there. The lesson resonates with me and I work hard to be someone who says yes to the asks and opportunities that come my way.
Many successful mentorships involve development of strategic and technical skills alongside softer skills on life management and coexisting with others. While the balance between these two outcomes varies for each mentorship pair, the time focusing on each doesn’t really matter. The time itself is the key.
Time is our scarcest resource. When we give our time to others, it sends three important messages: I see you. I believe in you. You’re worth it.
Each of us has a tremendous amount of advice and knowledge to impart on those who look to us as mentors. What specific messages do you want to share?