5 benefits I get out of being a mentor

A big step in most individual’s careers is when they get to start mentoring someone in a similar position to themselves. When someone first asked me to be their mentor, my immediate thought was, "Who, me?" When we first started talking, there were feelings of imposter syndrome before almost every meeting. I wondered if I would have any value to provide or if their questions would be beyond my experience. I even wondered if it was a good use of time for both of us.

Years later, I've had many mentees, started a whole leadership peer group, and received tons of mentorship myself. I've come to recognize that there is so much value for both sides of the mentor/mentee relationship. While the mentee gets to lean on the years of experience that the mentor has, the mentor also receives myriad benefits.

In this blog post, I'll explore the benefits afforded to individuals who choose to mentor through the lens of my personal experience.

Build your network and strengthen relationships

Whether your mentee is coming to you from a direct connection or finding you via a post on social media, there is an opportunity to strengthen and deepen your relationships. Much of business is relationship-based, especially in the tech world. In fact, according to a recent study, 82% of companies rated employee referrals above all other sourcing options to yield the best ROI—your relationship might even get you your next job.

With every person you mentor, you develop a connection to their network, thus growing yours by expansion. As you grow your network, your messaging, promotions, or job searches will reach that much more. You also grow your potential to have more excellent mentees or clients in the future. This is especially true if your mentorship is impactful for your mentee. If you're helping them with big hairy problems, they're more likely to suggest you to someone else needing assistance with the same or refer you if a role opens up at their company. All of my jobs in technology over the past decade have come from a referral.

Keep your existing skills strong

If you're mentoring folks, you've likely moved on from the work of the individual contributor. Usually, you're advanced at least one step past the person you are mentoring. In my case, as a VP of Customer Success, I don't get to use the same skills every day that I did as a team lead. Speaking with team leads about their day-to-day and offering advice or talking about what I did in their position helps keep that work fresh in my mind. 

Talking about strategy and reviewing my personal decisions at each level helps keep the memory fresh in my mind and allows me to create a cohesive narrative around it. This practice lets me bottle and serve up these learnings in conference talks or even separate conversations with other mentees. A great example of this is my experience of going through the acquisition of Trello by Atlassian. So many of my mentees find value in hearing about these experiences and how I handled them, and I've spoken through it enough that I've even been able to distill it down to conference talks and more digestible, relevant chunks depending on who I am talking to.

Without the opportunity to talk about these experiences with my mentees, they wouldn't be as fresh in my mind, and I wouldn't incorporate my learnings from those moments into my day-to-day.

Learn new things

Technologies are changing, and if you aren't in an on-the-ground role, it's possible that you don't know exactly what those technologies are. Almost every time I talk to one of my mentees, I learn about something new in the industry: some new technology or strategy on the bleeding edge. This is helpful for a few reasons:

  • Expands my perspective outside the things I already know
  • Gives me new things to recommend to other mentees or my team members
  • Keeps me on the cusp of new content
  • Broadens my mind about how things should and can be done.

This same kind of language osmosis happens for most folks at conferences, but given how few conferences are taking place nowadays, mentorship meetings have been a great place to learn. Unlike conferences, I can hear about individual, specific experiences rather than through advertising. This type of unbias review helps me explore the product a bit more in-depth than I would get to at a sponsored event.

Secondarily, much of what happens in mentorship meetings is open dialogue rather than explicitly sharing my opinions. Because of that, I get my perspectives regularly opened to ones outside of my own. After all, many of the people I'm speaking with work day-to-day on the ground floor of their organization. Hearing what they have to say and their perspectives helps me grow and develop my own.

Improve your management and leadership skills

Sometimes mentorship meetings require some hard conversations. For instance, if someone is asking for advice on firing someone or is making choices in their day job, that seems problematic. Each of these conversations mimics experiences that I've had to have during my career. Continuing to have these crucial conversations or guiding others in having them is extremely helpful because it keeps the skills fresh.

As I level up in my professional career, I move away from needing to accomplish certain tasks or have specific conversations—but that's doesn't mean that they aren't still important to know how to do. When I refresh myself on the practicalities of these situations or discuss them regularly with mentees, I'm better prepared to discuss them if and when they do come up in my professional career. 

I also get to take advantage of the experience of tons of leaders, rather than just myself. Most of the people I mentor are people leaders—because of that, I get to hear about their experiences, which are often different from my own, and I can use them to build my leadership perspective. The people I work with are brilliant, and the exchange of great ideas is one of the best aspects of mentoring them.

Emotional feel goods

The bottom-line best benefit of being a mentor is that it feels good. As many of you did, I started my career in customer support—it feels good for me to help individuals find solutions and get where they want to go. To me, mentorship is an extension of this service. Instead of customers, now I help people leaders find solutions and get where they need to go. 

It feels good to help people and see the "ah-ha!" moment light up a mentee's eyes when they get to the bottom of their issue. Many of them already have the answers inside of themselves and just need someone to talk it through with. One of my greatest joys in life is helping get them to the place where they understand that they knew the solution all along.

Similarly, everyone just needs someone to vent with now and then. It's so hard for people leaders to find someone to talk to: they can't precisely vent their personal feelings to their direct reports, and they may not have the relationship with their manager to speak to them about it. Peers are also challenging to find after you leave individual contributor-type positions. As a mentor, I serve the role of trusted guardian of many of my mentee's troubles and feelings at work. It feels good to be trusted and provide relief to them that they can't find easily elsewhere.

Try mentoring

Customer experience and customer support are having a come-up right now. Tons of people are building their careers in these excellent fields, and they need our help. If you haven't tried mentoring or aren't sure where to start: begin by putting it out there. Let people know on LinkedIn or Twitter that you are interested, and maybe include a bit of information about what you're best equipped to help with. There are also great resources like Support Driven’s Aspire Mentor program. Programs like this connect potential mentees with suitable mentors in relationships that feel fulfilling and enriching to both parties. If you don’t know that you have a wide enough network to find a mentee that suits you, something like this is a great option.

Once you get into mentoring, you will find it to be an enriching and beneficial experience. It helps you build and strengthen your network, which is excellent for future hiring needs and job changes if you are keen to shift your position. Mentoring also empowers you to learn new things and keep your existing skills strong—while you might not be personally doing the things that your mentees are talking about, you learn from their perspective and can put their ideas into your tool belt as well.

Working directly with other people leaders and advising them during their hard times helps you improve your skills as a leader during complicated conversations. Beyond that, you also can take the time to flesh out your positions on specific experiences that you've had. The more you talk about them, the more processing and understanding you'll have around the situation.

Lastly, it feels good. Being a mentor places you in a position of trust and opens your mentee up to vulnerability. Building relationships with people feels good, and it can also feel excellent to help resolve tricky, complicated issues that they might not have been able to solve independently. Give it a try! You won't regret it.

Mercer Smith