May 7, 2014

Everyone Can Be a Mentor

By: Roger Custer

Some mentors are involved in a formal partnership, like the one AFF provides, Boys & Girls Club, Big Brothers Big Sisters, etc.  But everyone is an informal mentor because younger employees, interns, and students observe and learn from your behavior, whether or not they tell you.

In the Bible, Paul gives advice to Titus on this subject:

“Similarly, encourage the young men to be self-controlled. In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrityseriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us.”  Titus 2: 6-8

I would argue that the “teaching” he mentions is not just through formal mentoring.  It encompasses your behavior, attitude, and example to everyone around you.  It involves how you perform under pressure, how you interact with others, how you solve problems with difficult colleagues, and other situations.  Your colleagues, especially younger ones, are watching you.  Let’s review the practical applications of each area he mentions:

1.  Integrity.  This refers to how you behave when others aren’t looking.  What do you do when you know you could “get away with it” or have no consequences even though you know it is wrong?  Do you tell the truth even when it would be more “convenient” to tell a lie?  Do you admit your mistakes and learn from them, or do you cover them up and pretend you didn’t err?

2.  Seriousness.  There is a time and place for humor, and offices should be fun.  There is also a role for seriousness because younger staff will follow your lead as to whether or not you respect authority and take your job seriously.  This can be applied in the area of accountability for results.  Do you keep your word when you say you will do something?  Do you provide a bonus when a colleague exceeds expectations and goes above and beyond?  Alternatively, do you take your bosses and colleagues seriously or do you disrespect their direction?  Do you listen when people give feedback (especially negative) or do they sound like Charlie Brown’s teacher?

3.  Soundness of Speech that Cannot be Condemned.  What you say has consequences.  How do you speak about your work and your colleagues when others are not there?  Do you phrase things in a negative manner?  Do you gossip about others, make inappropriate jokes, and use fowl language often?  Would you be proud of what you said today if we watched a video of yourself tomorrow?  The standard of never being condemned is quite high, but a helpful tool when thinking more carefully how, when, and to whom you speak each day.    
We all make mistakes and will never be perfect in any of these areas.  However, taking time to deliberately think about your decision-making can pay dividends because you will improve your reputation, become more valuable to current and future employers, and be more likely to get things done because you are a pleasure to be around.  People will think highly of you and not have any reason to criticize or condemn you based on preventable mistakes you made.  While these lessons are taught by formal mentors, they apply to everyone and can help you get better at your job and more successful in life.

Roger Custer is executive director at America’s Future Foundation          

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