I remember my father telling me this quote many years ago, often attributed to Maya Angelou: “I’ve learned that people forget what you said, people forget what you did, but people will.” never forget how you felt them. ”
For some reason it has touched me deeply and affected the way I view my professional interactions with others. Over time I came to understand that Angelou’s words were so true.
Those I have been in contact with have forgotten my victories or what I did on any given day in response to a challenge. But time and time again my colleagues tell me that they can easily recall a kind word of encouragement when they need it most.
An early start
I started mentoring relatively early in my career; When I was a college student, I mentored high school students in planning their journey to college.
While I was a night student in law school, working full-time, I shared my experiences with others who aspired to follow a similar path.
Looking back, I believe that I chose to mentor and share my experiences because I wanted to give others the advice, guidance, and encouragement that I have always sought from my own mentors, and that have helped me along the way have meant a lot.
I also felt the desire to pass on the knowledge and wisdom that was shared with me, mainly so that others can have it easier or maybe more consciously follow the path to their own vision of success.
I have been practicing law for more than 18 years and I can say that through mentoring others I have learned things that are worth sharing with anyone who wants to take on the role of mentor or is already a mentor and wants to develop their skills to be a great mentor.
Tips for supporting mentees
Here are three important tips every mentor should keep in mind to ensure their mentees get the most out of the relationship.
First, when mentoring others, the key is to have patience and practice being a good listener. I believe that the most influential mentors in my life have been those who took the time to really listen to me, who were patient to assess the path I was on or the obstacles I was facing, and then really listened as we talked about how I am able to achieve my goals.
I always approach mentoring others with the goal of being patient with the process and making sure I’m listening to my mentee. Mentoring is as much about listening and understanding as it is about coaching and advising.
It is important for the mentor to focus on making sure he/she understands the mentee’s concerns and goals before providing this advice and guidance. If a mentor isn’t patient and willing to listen and really listen to their mentee and focus solely on offering advice, chances are the advice won’t be as useful.
Second, a mentor must be willing to offer constructive criticism. Constructive criticism should not be offensive, but should encourage introspection and stimulate the mentee’s growth. A mentor should not filter or tone down feedback for fear of offending the mentee. Instead, the mentor should focus on offering constructive criticism with empathy.
One way of doing this is by sharing my own experiences and failures and showing the mentee that we are all capable of learning lessons by recognizing our mistakes and reflecting on them. If a mentor focuses on helping the mentee grow by overcoming shortcomings or learning from mistakes, rather than just focusing on the problems, the mentor is more likely to help the mentee instead of simply making them feel criticized and devalued.
After all, it is so important for the mentor to allow the mentee to make his/her own decisions while navigating their career path. It may be tempting for mentors, given their experiences and perspectives, to simply tell mentees what to do. However, this is not ideal and can really prevent the mentee from familiarizing themselves with these important decisions.
The role of a mentor is to help and support the mentee, not take over and make decisions. One thing the mentor can help the mentee with is problem solving, and the mentor should recognize the long-term value to the mentee in helping to develop this valuable skill.
If your words as a mentor are forgotten and your actions become less memorable over time, you still made a lasting impression when your mentees remember how you empowered them by listening to them, giving them constructive criticism, and encouraging them have encouraged them to take control of their careers and make important decisions with your support and guidance.
Mentoring others can be a very rewarding part of your professional career. I encourage those of you who are not mentoring to consider sharing your insights and wisdom with the next generation of leaders. As for the current mentors who have supported me along the way and countless others, thank you!
This article does not necessarily represent the opinion of the Bureau of National Affairs, Inc., the publisher of Bloomberg Law and Bloomberg Tax, or its owners.
Information about the author
Liza V Craig is a partner at Reed Smith in Washington, DC. She is a member of the firm’s Global Regulatory Enforcement Group, where she focuses on government procurement.