National Mentoring Month
It wasn't until I became a lawyer that I truly understood the importance of having a mentor. A good mentor. Law firm life can be difficult, both in regard to the substantive work as well as firm dynamics, client dynamics, and work/life balance (this is not an exhaustive list of ways it can be difficult…). I was lucky enough to find a firm that emphasized the importance of mentorship, and better yet, be assigned a mentor who was dedicated to my success on all levels. And she was funny! It made me feel like I was part of a team and that I had somebody cheering for me on the sidelines, ready to step in and help me right the ship if something were to go off course. And did I mention she is funny? Humor can go a long way when you are trying to build a mentoring relationship. As I became more senior, I realized that I had learned the tools of being a mentor myself, and found that being a mentor was one of my favorite aspects of my job. Over the years, I have learned several important lessons about mentoring, both from being the mentor, as well as the mentee.
- Set up a system to check in regularly. This may seem obvious, but it is amazing how quickly time can pass by if you don’t set up a proactive system to check in. Regular contact matters and is the best way to establish a relationship and to understand how things are going with your mentee. This is particularly true if your mentee is shy or has a more introverted personality. This is even more important if your mentee works in a different group, department, or office than your own, as you and your mentee may not interact during your normal day-to-day schedule.
- If you are lucky enough to work for a company (like Q&B) that provides a mentoring budget, USE IT! When I first started mentoring associates, we used to go big and plan a spa day or do something similarly exciting. But over time, I have found that the daily trips to grab a coffee are much more effective for growing the relationship and having more meaningful interactions. And really, who doesn't need a coffee?
- Keep a look out for opportunities that may be relevant to your mentee. Whether that is introducing your mentee to a client, taking them out on a pitch, identifying a conference relevant to their practice, or just giving them the heads up on an amazing new restaurant that opened…whatever the case may be. These steps help your mentee know that you are trying to support them and move them forward in their career (or at least get a good meal).
- Don't be afraid to have difficult discussions. Try to be honest, even when that means it won't be easy. Mentoring means you have to discuss the good and the not-so-good. They key is to keep being supportive through the tough times.
- Make sure you are a good listener and pay attention. Don't type emails or look on your iphone while your mentee is talking to you, that is a major tipoff to your mentee that you are not interested.
- Encourage mentees who are becoming more senior to mentor more junior associates. Pay it forward! Everyone does better when they feel connected and supported.
- Make sure you know when your mentee is going through a major life change (e.g., death in the family, marriage, divorce, childbirth, illness, etc.) and check in with them. That may be the time when they need you the most.
- If your company assigns mentors/mentees and you believe you are not the right fit for your mentee, chances are your mentee feels the same way. Sometimes the best mentoring you can do for someone is recognizing when your mentee needs a different mentor.
- If your mentee has had some type of achievement or success at work or in their personal life, make sure you congratulate them. Everyone likes a pat on the back! Don't assume they know how proud you are of them
- As a mentee, don't be afraid to approach your mentor. As I mentioned, item #1, sometimes things get busy and even the best of mentors (ahem) sometimes forget to check in now and then. Don't be afraid to stop by or give a call!