We tend to think of mentorship as a one-way street. It’s a way for younger people to get insight and guidance, we typically think, and a way for their older colleagues to give back to future generations. Often mentorship programs are operated by an organization and seen by mentors as a way of serving the institution: contributing to an alumni network or an employer’s talent development program.
That’s all true. But I’ve been reminded by the feedback we’ve received from our alumni that mentorship provides real value to those volunteering their time and wisdom, too.
I’ve touched on this when I’ve written before about mentorship, but it’s even clearer to me from these responses that mentorship also offers powerful benefits to working professionals, even more senior ones. Our alumni mentors almost universally report that the work they’re doing with current students is personally rewarding and leaves them impressed with the next generation. But many also tell us that they’re gaining valuable knowledge.
Jay Seagren, for example, is an alumnus and seasoned tech executive who we paired with Samuel Corso, a current undergraduate with a two-year-old app-development startup. Jay has given Sam advice on running a company, interacting with clients, and managing time. But Sam has taught Jay a lot, too.
“I’ve learned so much about start-ups from Sam,” Jay told us. “He’s also taught me how to deal with smaller clients. I’ve learned about technology that is completely different from enterprise solutions.” The bottom line, Jay says, is that exposure to the startup world has been deeply eye-opening. “He forces me to learn more and more,” he says. “I’ve been surprised by how much I didn’t know.”
In my career, I’ve often found that mentorship helps me do my job better. Serving as a mentor helps me stay in touch with the younger generation, something particularly important for a college president, but valuable for anyone. Like Jay Seagren, I learn things from those I mentor, stay up-to-date (or at least more up-to-date!) with the latest technologies and trends, and gain valuable perspectives on things younger people might see differently than I do.
Mentoring helps people in leadership roles (or those aspiring to them) to build their leadership skills. It helps them build their internal networks, and it can give them access to communities of potential employees they might not have otherwise known about. It helps them develop better, more inclusive communication styles. One study of chief financial officers found that 62% of them had served as mentors, and that of those who did, 38% said the greatest benefit was the opportunity to improve their leadership skills (even more than the 29% who said the top benefit was the personal satisfaction of helping someone).
Experts note that mentorship can prove critical in transmitting culture and values within an organization, and it can be an integral part of succession planning. It can also motivate professional development and encourage goalsetting and progress tracking.
There’s even academic research showing that those who serve as mentors report greater job satisfaction and greater fulfillment at work. And other research suggests that mentors perform better at work and see greater career success.