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Although mentorship is a hot topic in some Leadership and Development circles, it's largely viewed as a nice-to-have for most up-and-coming leaders. According to a recent conversation with Insight Experience expert facilitator Laurel Tyler, having a mentor isn't simply a career accelerator for junior leaders; it's also a fulfilling gift to become a mentor.

Laurel Tyler, an accomplished designer and facilitator who joined Insight Experience after 25 years in technology and financial management, talked with us about her mentoring practice in the Chicago area, touching on how and why she mentors. We share some of her thoughts here. One thing is very clear from our conversation: Mentoring matters to Laurel, and it should matter to you, too.  

What is Mentoring?

A mentor is a resource or set of resources outside of your standard reporting relationship. By way of structured, regular conversations, a mentoring relationship enables you to think broadly about the trade-offs in your career and in your life.

Laurel cautions that mentors and sponsors are different things. She quoted Carla Harris, Vice Chairman of Morgan Stanley, who says that with your mentor, you can discuss "the good, the bad and the ugly." But with your sponsor you can dive into "the good, the good and the good." Mentors are consistently there to support you; they can help you crystalize and unpack your goals. Mentors provide an objective and nonjudgmental launching pad for career trajectories.

A Case Study in Mentorship

Laurel shared that she herself was mentored during college and her early career by a woman who was the head of Leadership Development at the University of Michigan. As a chemical engineering student at the University of Michigan and as someone who launched her career in the oil industry, Laurel found the practical wisdom and experienced perspectives of her mentor invaluable. This mentor enabled her see opportunities and obstacles in a longer-term way and provided clear direction for her career.

Though having a mentor early in one’s career is certainly not a replacement for formal leadership development, it can be a career accelerator. It can add fuel to the fire of an aspiring leader, particularly for those who like to process ideas with others.

What Are the Benefits of Being a Mentor?

Laurel touts the benefits of being a mentor, now that she is mature in her consulting career and has many years of business experience. She believes that mentoring is a gift and that nearly anyone can become a mentor. Though it takes dedicated time, honesty, practice, and a willingness to listen and set aside your own agenda, it does not take a professional skill set.

Laurel mentors women, entrepreneurs, and nonprofit leaders in various industries, helping them think strategically about their career goals and how their professional desires fit with their personal lives and other goals. The value she offers is unique in that she neither supervises nor interacts daily with her mentees but can offer accountability and perspective from a third-party view.

A recent example she shared was a conversation with an entrepreneur whose target markets had changed in light of recent work conducted with focus groups. Laurel introduced the entrepreneur to some local not-for-profits that serve the same target audience. Through this connection, the entrepreneur was able to offer free trials to her clients. This allowed for the quick and inexpensive gathering of required information the start-up needed. “These little a-ha moments," Laurel says, "are the reason I continue to serve my community as a mentor.”

Here is advice Laurel shares for those seeking to be mentored and those who want to become a mentor.

For those seeking mentorship:

  • Look for a mentor in educational institutions, local businesses, professional organizations, and/or in your own place of work.
  • Identify a person who might be interested in a mentoring relationship. Tell them why you see them as a mentor and what they have accomplished that has inspired you.
  • Clearly articulate what your goals are and the specific ways you hope your mentor will assist you.

For those who want to become a mentor:

  • Seek out underserved and minority populations, especially first-generation professionals, immigrants, and refugees. They often need this relationship and are grateful for the guidance.
  • Meet regularly. Meeting only in times of crisis can limit those a-ha moments that occur when one steps back from the daily grind.
  • Listen first, ask questions second, and only offer advice as a last alternative. A solid sounding board is often the most effective tool.

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