Personal development is a big area of focus at my day-job. We have annual plans in place and are highly encouraged to determine what our long-term career strategy is so that we can gain the skills, abilities, and experiences we need in order to make it a reality.
As a manager, I not only have to work on my own development, but I also have to “help” my team work on theirs. This week that meant I attended a day-long Coaching & Mentoring for Leaders class at my local university. Like almost every other management / team-related class I’ve attended, there was a hands-on exercise that involved building a tower. This time there were blindfolds.
The dictionary defines a coach as someone who “trains or instructs” (i.e., a tennis coach) while a mentor is “an experienced and trusted adviser.” Guide, guru, counselor, consultant, and confidante are all listed as synonyms for mentor.
The role of a mentor as “an established employee who guides a newer employee through the complexity of the organization” has grown and changed with the times. Mentoring relationships have evolved too and no longer need to be formal “we will meet every 3rd Thursday for 30 minutes” arrangements.
Coincidentally, while scanning my Facebook news feed yesterday, I came across this article on “5 Essential Mentors You Need for a Killer Career” which suggests that a person doesn’t need a single mentor, but rather a variety of mentors to fill specific aspects of their development. The article was directed towards workplace mentoring, but I think it adapts quite well to all kinds of mentoring.
Here then is my list of essential mentors for writers:
The “Brand-New Writer” Mentor
Someone who is new to a job or activity can bring a fresh perspective. Not knowing “how things are done” can open the door for new ideas and interesting approaches. When I was working on a post-grad writing program a few years ago, there were a number of young college graduates in the classes who were new to writing. They frequently came up with really inventive solutions to the writing prompts and brought a completely different level of energy to the writing process. New/younger writers can also provide a wealth of knowledge if you’re not in that “younger” group yourself.
“The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled.” ~ Plutarch
The “Been There, Done That” Mentor
An established writer, who has successfully achieved the same goals you are working toward, can be an extremely valuable resource. Besides being an inspiration, like the keynote speakers at the recent RWA conference, they can provide information on the industry, provide feedback, and even help you establish other valuable contacts. Many writers I’ve encountered in workshops and at conferences have been very willing to share their knowledge and “learned the hard way” stories.
“The delicate balance of mentoring someone is not creating them in your own image, but giving them the opportunity to create themselves.” ~ Steven Spielberg
The Supportive Mentor
Often a spouse or a best friend, the role of the supportive mentor is more about helping you keep your confidence up than providing assistance or guidance. Everyone needs to have someone in their corner to turn to when the story is stalled, the manuscript seems hopeless, or the latest query comes back with a “thanks, but no thanks.” A supportive mentor can sympathize (perhaps with a glass of wine or some really good ice-cream) and help you regain your will-to-write. It doesn’t need to be a writer or anyone connected with the business, just someone who believes in your abilities and wants to see you succeed.
“If you light a lamp for someone, it will also brighten your own path.” ~ Buddhist proverb
The Virtual Mentor
The internet opens up a whole new set of possibilities for mentoring. Social media provides a great way to “connect” with other writers and industry professionals that you might never have a chance to interact with in-person. Whether it’s informational discussions between members of your writing group or TED talks by individuals who inspire you to be your creative best, the internet provides a great way to connect with a wide range of virtual mentors.
“Mentoring is a brain to pick, an ear to listen, and a push in the right direction.” ~ John C. Crosby
Writing is a solitary pursuit and without outside interactions it’s possible to lose motivation or fall into a rut. Mentoring can provide great opportunities for learning and growth – for both sides of the relationship.
Interested in reading more about mentoring? Check out the MentorCloud blog.
“MentorCloud’s Web Worthy series is a curated list of the best mentoring articles and stories from the past week. Check in every Thursday for inspiration, guidance, and practical advice on everything related to mentoring! “
So, do you have any mentors or have you mentored anyone else?
I once had a job in a big company where the unstated HR plan was to hire lots of smart young kids and a few older folks to make sure the young kids didn’t go off the rails. I was one of the older folks, and while I’m not sure I was “mentoring,” I did help to keep the kids from imploding sometimes. One day a young guy came into my office, obviously very upset. I thought something bad had happened to him that morning or on his way to work; he was visibly shaken. I asked him what was wrong. He said the most horrible thing had happened. What, I said. This morning I got up as usual, he said, and I turned on the radio.
I held my breath, thinking there was a massacre in his home town. Or…something else horrible on the news. He put his head in his hands.
The radio was playing a song by a band I’d never heard of, he said.
So I had to tell him that would happen more and more often. I’m not sure how comforting that was.
Mentoring at its finest. 🙂
Kay – I”m sure you were a very comforting mentor 🙂 We have a mentoring program here at work (a “buddy” program) where established employees help new employees acclimate to our unique environment. No one has gone off the rails because of an unknown song, but undoubtedly a few have from culture shock.
LOL. It’s a good thing you were there to help him deal with the trauma!
LOLOLOL! Fear of Death! Those little reminders that one is getting old just keep happening. One came to me just know when I realized that my mom was my age, she had a head of white hair and was a grandmother. Whoa! The clock is ticking . . . but I’m not dead yet, so I’m not very upset.
(From Spamalot, the musical.) 2:46, so it’s not the complete song, but enough to get you off the cart.)
I’ve had some pretty good mentors, I think. And I think in a way, books can be kind of a mentor. They can show the way and give advice and provide examples of both model behavior and horrible warnings.
As for being a mentor . . . well, I love to give advice, but I’ve never been a long-term, got-your-back kind of mentor. Unless you count my kids. But I try not to mentor my kids too much. I think I actually learn as much from them as they do from me. Maybe that’s the perfect mentoring relationship — both the experienced person and the new person giving each other a certain grounding or flying energy.
Michaeline – I think you’re right. The give and take both ways seems like it makes the best mentoring relationship. After all, there’s always something to learn, no matter how experienced you are.