In this post, the 6th of my Toastmasters series, I will focus on mentorship. Mentorship is one of the multiple benefits of joining a Toastmasters club, and it’s also an extremely powerful tool in any area of your life where you’re trying to learn and grow, be it at work, with one of your hobbies or in life in general.
During my Toastmasters journey, as part of one of my assignments, I had to prepare a speech about mentorship and share my experience as a protégé. At the time, I hadn’t been exposed to the idea of mentorship too much. However, when I looked back to my past, I actually recognised many people who helped me during my life, effectively acting as mentors. I thought about school teachers, music teachers, sports coaches, managers at work and even my therapist. In the end, for that speech, I decided to talk about my mum and how through her love she inspired my whole life. Delivering that speech in front of my fellow toastmasters was very emotional and made me feel very vulnerable, but it was a great experience.
In the last year or so, I finally started practising mentorship both as a mentee and as a mentor. I have a mentor at work who’s been helping me massively with my career progression, and a Toastmasters mentor, who’s been helping me become a better speaker. I am also mentoring two people, one colleague at my company and one person from a different company. Additionally, in my job I am a line manager for several people. In a way, I feel like I am a mentor to them as well.
In the rest of this post, I will talk about my experience both as a mentor and as a mentee and I will share my thoughts on what makes a great mentor and a great mentee.
Deciding to find a mentor for yourself is a great step in the right direction, if you’re a keen learner and are trying to make progress in a specific area of your life. A mentor is someone who can support you, give you feedback and help you grow by leveraging their experience and knowledge in a specific topic. When you decide to work with a mentor, it’s important to define what you’re trying to learn in detail and even agree on a set of clear objectives you will focus on.
It’s also fundamental to establish how you’re going to work together. As a mentee, what do you need from your mentor? Do you want them to mostly listen to your ideas and your frustrations? Do you prefer them to give you explicit advice or to ask you questions to unlock your thinking? How do you prefer to receive feedback? Do you want to speak to them on a regular basis or on an ad-hoc basis? Do you want to meet them online or in person?
When you are planning a session with your mentor, it’s very important to prepare so that you know exactly what you’re going to discuss and you can focus on the things you need. Even better if you can send them an agenda in advance, so they can also come prepared. All these details will help make your mentorship relationship successful.
In my case, my Toastmasters mentor is the President of my club. He has an immense experience both as a Toastmaster and in life. I have so far been able to learn and improve myself a lot thanks to him. Every time I prepare a speech, I reach out and ask for specific advice either on the content and structure of the speech or on the delivery. I usually reach out also after the speech to ask for feedback and know what he thinks I should focus on next time. This has notably sped up my personal growth as a public speaker.
On the other hand, deciding to become a mentor was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I had to overcome a massive impostor syndrome. At first, I didn’t think I would have too much to offer and I wasn’t sure whether my advice would be any useful to my mentees. I have to admit that even now, after being a mentor for quite a while, I sometimes still feel that way. It takes a bit of vulnerability and a bit of risk to put yourself in that position. What if I don’t know how to answer their questions or what advice to give them?
Once you overcome that feeling, the return of investment is invaluable. Whenever my mentees tell me they found our sessions useful, or even better whenever they come to me in the following session telling me how they applied my advice successfully, I feel an unspeakable joy. In a way, it’s my way of giving back. I received a lot of support from numerous people and now I can finally help others.
The most incredible part of being a mentor is how much learning there is for yourself. You’re presented with a number of situations and problems you haven’t necessarily experienced before. You can learn more about other people, other departments in your company or other companies, depending on your mentee. You also have a huge opportunity to improve on fundamental skills, like communication or counselling.
When you’re a mentor, my main advice is: LISTEN. Listening is the most important skill you have to develop if you want to become a good mentor. You need to try and understand what your mentees need from you and how you can best help them. Sometimes all they need is someone to listen to them. But not always…
It’s crucial for a mentor to learn how to ask the right questions; open questions to encourage them to think and get to the solution to their problems by themselves; not trying to lead them anywhere but just facilitating their thought process.
When they’re asking for advice explicitly, first of all show empathy. Put yourself in their shoes and try to understand and acknowledge how they feel. If you can and if relevant, try to draw from your personal experience and share a personal story.
At times, it’s OK if you don’t have the perfect answer or perfect advice. Just be honest and brainstorm with them. That will surely help them.
Finally, ask for feedback. Try to figure out how you can best provide them with what they need and adapt your style accordingly.
Coming to the end of my post, I have gone through mentorship from both the mentor’s and mentee’s perspectives. I am a huge fan of mentorship and I strongly encourage you to go ahead and find either a mentor or a mentee for yourself. You won’t regret it.
Blog was written by author as 8 part Toastmaster series and also available in his personal Medium post