By Buzz Woeckener, SHARE Director, Strategy and Leadership Development
As I read articles previously published in SHARE’d Intelligence, I noticed that three recent articles mentioned mentoring. I thought it was interesting, given the articles were written by different authors yet each found it important to highlight mentoring. I’m a mentor as well as a “mentee” and I realize the significance of mentoring. While this article will not be able to cover all the aspects and intricacies of mentoring, I thought it was worth discussing the basics as a primer for those who have never considered being a mentor but should. So, to that point, let’s start with a foundation: What exactly is a mentor? Webster’s defines a mentor as:
- a wise and trusted counselor or teacher
- an influential senior sponsor or supporter
- to act as a mentor; e.g., she spent years mentoring to junior employees.
So now that we have a common understanding of how mentoring is defined, we need to understand why it was important enough to be mentioned in so many previous articles.
Why be a mentor? For starters, mentoring allows you to positively influence others as they navigate towards successful careers, just as you did before them. It also enables you to guide others around the pitfalls and trials you have experienced in the past. And finally, mentoring allows you to be a resource to another, just as someone was that same help to you (hopefully!).
Yes, regardless of how self-sufficient we all may want to believe we are, somewhere at some point in time, we all had someone guide us and take care of us. By speaking to us for just a few short minutes, they imparted wisdom and knowledge that, if left to ourselves, would have taken us days, weeks, months or years to acquire. Take a moment and think about who that guiding voice was or is in your life. If you are lucky, more than one person comes to mind. Each one of them had a specific talent or skill. You recognized the skill and desired to acquire it as well. And they were willing to share and help.
So what does it mean to be a mentor? First, mentoring requires work. After all, you are agreeing to guide and teach someone who has sought you out to learn all they can from you. This is a big responsibility, and one that should not be taken lightly. A successful mentoring relationship is not only about checking on how things are with them or going to lunch every so often. It does not even have to be about becoming the best of friends. And while friendship can evolve, mentoring is more about imparting your knowledge and wisdom to that person, helping them achieve their aspirations and goals. It is about listening. It should be about creating a safe place for your mentee to discuss challenges in their life with complete confidence that what is discussed with you remains with you. Remember, trust is one of the most important aspects of mentoring. A mentor cannot be judgmental. He or she needs to be open, honest and one who provides advice and opinions that are not always what the mentee wants to hear, but what he or she needs to hear. It should be a relationship that has deliverables to help mentees succeed. Your advice may be a book you would like them to read or perhaps a suggested update to their resume. At the minimum, you should always provide items for them to work on so they can grow.
In our area of technology, mentoring is more important than ever. The mainframe is one of the few technologies where all of the knowledge needed to be successful cannot be easily learned from books. It is the experience and knowledge that many of you possess that is so needed by the next generation of mainframers. How else are they going to understand where this all came from and how all the advances were made, if not from the people who spent countless hours making this platform what it is today?
Finally, I believe a reason for mentoring is to help define your legacy. By imparting your knowledge and experiences to others, your accomplishments and successes will not be forgotten. Your legacy will live on. Future generations can build upon them and have even greater successes. Mentoring is to leave a legacy that your mentees will someday pass on to the next generation.
One more thought: As I said at the beginning of this article, I have the privilege of being the mentor to several individuals all at different stages in their careers. Sometimes, the conversations are about helping them with their career planning, and other times it is advice on how to navigate a difficult situation at work. Whatever the subject, I can tell you there is nothing better than to see someone that you have invested your time become successful and achieve great accomplishments. It is a tremendously fulfilling and rewarding experience. It also is one of the best learning experiences. I have never had a session with a mentee where I have not learned something new from them. Whether it is a different perspective, a new phrase or some other discovery, it is always enlightening and beneficial to me. Mentoring will help keep you current, young at heart and provide you a means to leave a legacy you can be proud of.
Buzz Woeckener has more than 25 years of experience in all areas of technology and has a passion for leadership development. Known for his work in zLinux, Woeckener is currently the associate vice president of information risk management at Nationwide and serves on the SHARE Board of Directors where he is responsible for strategy and leadership development.