Argonne’s Mentoring Blog provides opportunities for laboratory employees to discuss mentoring strategies and ideas with one another and enables employees to provide feedback and opinions on a variety of topics.

Leaders in Mentoring: When to Lead and When to Learn

To celebrate National Mentoring Month, we are featuring a series of guest posts reflecting on mentorship. This week’s feature from Shanissa Bell, Leadership Development Lead with the Argonne Leadership Institute, highlights how mentorship help us as leaders AND learners!

Leaders in organizations are often encouraged to become mentors for employees who are interested in topics such as honing technical skills, navigating advancement opportunities, and increasing their network reach and influence. Mentoring is a way for leaders to give back by sharing the knowledge that they have gained over the course of their career. Having the opportunity to participate in a mentoring relationship helps facilitate a mentee driven understanding of where you are versus where you want to be.

When most people think about leaders in mentoring, they automatically assume that the leader is cast in the role of the mentor. While this is true in many mentoring relationships, it is easy to overlook that leaders can benefit from having a mentor of their own. As a leader, it is important to think about both the development of others and your self-development needs. Whether or not you are the mentor, or the mentee is dependent upon where you are in your own development. When considering a mentorship role, ask yourself, is it time for me to lead or time for me to learn?

The Leader as a Mentor
Do you have advanced technical knowledge, or have you moved up through the organizational ranks to reach your current position? Do you have the time and energy to provide a beneficial relationship to a mentee? These are a few of the questions you can ask yourself to help determine if the role of a mentor is right for you.  Mentors are adept at giving back by sharing their individual journey and skills with others.  This transfer of knowledge is invaluable in helping employees explore their skills and future career paths in a one-one-one personalized setting. Mentors in this capacity must be willing and able to provide structured feedback based on personal experience and mentors should be committed to being available to their mentees as an advisor and sounding board. Becoming a mentor will allow you to help others expand their careers.

The Leader as a Mentee
It is often the case that development opportunities for leaders decrease as your position or level increases. Sometimes we expect leaders to know everything that there is to know once they are promoted or hired into a leadership role. However, many leaders will say that they wished they had the opportunity to receive a mentorship as a way of acclimating to their role and responsibilities. If you are a leader who feels like there are skills that you want to improve or if you would like to learn more about your current organization and its culture, the mentee role may be the right path for you. Experiencing personalized development as a mentee can also help you prepare for a role as a mentor to others.

Reciprocity in Mentoring
One major benefit of a mentoring relationship is reciprocity. Reciprocity can be defined as the practice of exchanging things with others for mutual benefit. Mentoring provides a give and take relationship and validates your leadership capabilities. As a mentor you can share your knowledge with someone else while improving your own communication, empathy, and listening skills.

Mentees also benefit greatly from the mentorship relationship. Their skills are strengthened by receiving direct feedback and career guidance. At the same time, they also provide new perspectives to the mentor and help strengthen the mentor’s ability to provide guidance to another individual.

What Role is Right for Me?
As a leader, you have a unique opportunity to provide mentoring and receive mentoring. The role you choose should be closely tied to where you are in your own development journey. Do you feel like you have valuable information to share with others or do you feel like you need a little more practice to strengthen your own skills? There is no right, or wrong answer. You may even have the bandwidth to be both a mentor and a mentee.  A cornerstone to mentoring is allowing yourself the time and space to serve in the role or roles that you choose. Remember, the final decision is up to you.