I said at the start of this chapter that it was important not only to find mentors, but to become a mentor, too. The reasons for this are both pragmatic and philanthropic.
By providing advice and assistance to others, perhaps newer technologists, newly graduating students, and others, we're better able to evaluate circumstances. When we try to apply such analytics to our own situations, we tend to have predetermined views and outcomes. By serving as a mentor, we become better at advising ourselves.
Perhaps as critical is the simple fact that it is right to give back to the professional community. I appeal here to decency and responsibility. Few experiences are as enjoyable as seeing your input and advice helping someone attain a degree of success.
What Qualifies Me as a Mentor?
The question that often comes up is this one: What qualifies me to mentor someone else? In truth, little qualifies you, except that you have more life experience than you know. Often, life experiences are emotional events that we react to but do not analyze.
When confronted with someone else's career or life questions, you are not as emotionally vested. This detachment can create a much broader perspective that can be extremely valuable to the person who is seeking your input. In addition, in providing this less emotive input for someone else, you invariably gain the benefit of your own insight. In effect, it allows you to analyze your past situation in a less reactive manner.
The Role of Mentor Is Not a Power Position
Consider it humbling when someone seeks your advice, and don't take the responsibility lightly. The sections that follow represent a few concepts to remember when you find yourself in the role of mentor.
Encourage and Stretch
When serving as a mentor, you must provide encouragement, while stretching the individual to achieve more. The role of mentor is truly a coaching one. You want the person to view you as a safe place to bring his ideas. Although you might play devil's advocate to help the individual strengthen his ideas, if you are consistently undermining those ideas through contrary advice, the person will cease seeking your input. When an individual's ideas are good, let the person know.
Point to Other Mentors or Resources
Mentoring is not necessarily about your direct experience or advice. Many times you might simply know someone or some resources (book, magazine, or seminar) that can help the individual. I can provide advice with less apprehension when I point the person to other resources for consideration. I don't hold the corner on good advice, and I want to ensure that the person gets the best input possible.