You can help someone change their life!

We are all busy, and usually feeling over-loaded. Commitments at work and at home threaten to drown us – there’s never enough time. And now I am being asked to volunteer as a mentor! Are you mad? And anyway, I’m not sure I’m a good role model, and I don’t think I’m the most patient person – so I don’t think I’d be a good mentor.

These thoughts often get in the way of people volunteering when a call for mentors goes out, whether at work, in our professions, or maybe even at church or at our children’s school. But if you could know what a difference you might be able to make in someone’s life, with just a small investment of time, you might be surprised.  Usually, volunteer mentoring programmes work on the basis of mentors and mentees meeting for around one hour a month, with maybe some very limited telephone or email interaction between meetings. Relationships may be short – sometimes as short as 3 – 6 months, but most last for about a year.

What sort of difference could you make for someone? Mentoring is most effective when it is aimed at helping people make important transitions in their lives – whether it is a new entrant to the workplace, someone coming back to work after maternity leave or lengthy career breaks, deciding to go out free-lancing or setting up a business, or changing career paths within a company. Just being able to talk through with a mentor the various aspects involved in deciding to make such a transition and being able to depend on non-involved, non-judgemental support during the transition can make the difference between success and failure for the mentee.

But even better – mentoring delivers benefits to the mentor as well. Most mentors are amazed at how much they themselves learn during the relationship. You might learn more about yourself, your own style, or you might be shifted to reflect on your own career or dilemmas. You will always learn about situations you have not previously been exposed to, as your mentee will be different to you. One mentor describes it as “a university for me, I learn about the problems and challenges that are being faced by my mentees”. Most mentors, once their relationship is finished, are eager to repeat the experience, and some even go off and find a mentor for themselves.

What would you have to do to be a successful mentor?  The main skills involved are questioning and listening – that’s not so difficult! There are some important “code of conduct” issues in mentoring, and mentor training providers can provide support in developing your mentoring skills. And there’s another plus for the mentor – most often, mentors who are managers “back home”, report that their management/leadership style has improved and they are getting better results out of their people.

So, can you find an hour a month to help others? You really won’t regret it and you’ll learn a lot in the process.