Since the beginning of my career, I’ve had mentors. I never asked for one but, fortunately, my supervisors always decided to give me advice on how to improve certain aspects of my professional life. I guess they felt that I was open to it and it was worth the effort.
I will never forget the day I had my first professional interview at a manufacturing company in Puerto Rico. I had to meet with five (5) different managers. They were interviewing recent college graduates for Production Supervisory positions they had available. The company was undergoing a re-engineering process and they wanted to hire junior engineers to help streamline processes and maximize productivity. I was selected by a very refined, yet extremely straight-forward Cuban-American manager. He said to me, “I chose you because although you seem extremely shy, you also seem to have great potential“. That was the beginning of a mentoring process that at that moment I did not see coming.
I was assigned to work the third shift (10 pm to 6 am). However, every morning after my shift ended, he wanted me to stay around for meetings and conference calls with the company US headquarters. His goal was for me to practice my English language skills, work on my confidence, and learn more about the business. Every time we had one of those conference calls I felt like I was about to die. I had headaches, dizziness, and stomach pains.
Once, he said to me that even when I was doing a terrific job balancing production lines and implementing productivity measuring tools, nobody knew who I was. He indicated that it was extremely important for me to network with the other managers. That suggestion caused me a lot of stress. I could not understand why I needed to talk to anyone else. I was doing my job well, production output was good, I was even implementing tools to measure production efficiency; so to me, this was mean and unnecessary. However, pushing myself to follow his recommendation helped me being promoted very quickly to the first shift and also to be considered for a new position as master production planner helping the company to successfully implement a plant-wide supply-chain system.
Like him, I’ve had many supervisors and colleagues who have provided mentoring advice. It has not been in a formal fashion where you meet purposely to discuss a working plan, yet it has been consciously done. It is very difficult to provide advice when none has been requested; however if you have the opportunity to mentor someone, do not let that opportunity pass. Mentoring is a two-way street and it benefits the mentor and the one mentored.
Here are some key points on how to become a mentor:
- Observe and Listen: Observing how people perform and what they say is a good way to identify potential in someone. Usually, people who are introverts also have great performance. These types of people usually associate success with end-results. What they don’t realize is the importance of verbal communication and networking. If you see someone like that, talk to that person. Ask about her/his interests. Let them know that if they need information or guidance, you are more than willing to help.
- Suggest extra-tasks: Most of the things that I have done in my professional life and that have been outside of my comfort zone, have been assigned to me as extraordinary tasks. I had no choice but to take on those responsibilities. My supervisors would say: “I need you to do this” or “you will be involved in or leading this project“. They also highlighted that if I had questions or needed any support, not to hesitate to ask for it. They reinforced their confidence in my abilities to get the job done. Actually, one time, one of them said to me “I have more faith in you than you have in yourself. Go and get that job done!“. It was such an eye opener for me that I’ve never forgotten that moment.
- Performance reviews are a great tool to provide honest and well-intentioned feedback: Utilize performance reviews not only to go over end-results and new goals but also to discuss potential projects, areas of improvement, and how you can help that person make progress. You can also discuss and suggest other areas of work, lateral career moves, social activities, and potential professional organizations.
Being a mentor is a great privilege but also a huge responsibility. You can really have an impact on people’s careers. You can also an impact on the performance of the organization. I am convinced that employees feel more accountable and productive when they know and feel the organization cares about them.
I will always remember when I was a production supervisor and I had to convince people to work overtime. I always helped my employees on whatever they needed. I was always available to talk to them. Therefore, whenever the company needed them to work extra time, they always said that because I had been there for them, they were going to be there for me. I truly believe in leading by example.
As leaders, we need to have a commitment to continuous improvement. Sometimes we want the glamour of a job position and the money associated with it but we don’t want the greater purpose that goes with it.
Mentors are life-long friends, people that end up knowing you and being part of your success and your journey. My mentors are people that I truly feel grateful for and will forever be connected to.
Pass your knowledge to others. Teach and share your experiences. Connect with others on a deeper level. That’s part of being a leader. Go for it!