Accidental Mentoring

When you wake up one day and realize you are in a mentoring relationship.

Listen to the words of industry people and you will frequently hear acknowledgment of mentors. The references range from general to specific such as, “My life has been immensely enriched by this relationship” to “I wouldn’t have completed the project without my mentor” to “this specific tactic helped me”. A major component of the Project Manager role is developing and managing relationships. This is one type that may not tie directly into a specific project, but it will have a major impact on your life. Here are some personal observations of being on both sides.

Let’s start with the definition of a mentor. According to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management:

“”Mentoring is usually a formal or informal relationship between two people-a senior mentor (usually outside the protégé’s chain of supervision) and a junior protégé.”

I have been lucky to have worked with some incredible people who have bestowed general wisdom, specific guidance, encouragement, and sometimes a good push out of my comfort zone. Some of my mentor experiences landed on the more formal side of the continuum and were extremely valuable however, I am going to talk about the informal side.  These relationships usually started in a casual sharing of experiences and ideas. Short water cooler interactions became longer talks. I started having more “ah ha” moments when we talked and the lessons really took root when I acted on suggestions and saw results. An interesting effect of the casual and broad sharing of experience is that timely advice pops into my head whenever a situation recalls a specific conversation. We also develop a relationship where I feel comfortable asking for their opinion and guidance regarding specific situations.

A few weeks ago, I realized that I was now the mentor. I have a co-worker (let’s call her Sherry) who asked me a few questions regarding her first project. I answered and gave specific suggestions, reviewed several emails and even modeled a necessary conversation with a stakeholder. Prior to talking to the Stakeholder, we discussed the objectives and approach for the conversation. I then led the conversation with Sherry observing. Afterwards, we did a postmortem and Sherry was able to wrap up the issue. Over the course of the next few weeks, we talked in greater frequency and about broader topics. I realized I was a mentor when, several times, her eyes lit up and she grabbed pencil and paper to make a note.

As both the protégé and the mentor, I find myself appreciating the opportunity to have such dynamic and interesting people in my life. No matter what side of the relationship, my life has been enriched by being open to giving and receiving knowledge and assistance. I encourage Project Managers to share their knowledge as well as be open to what others can teach us. You may wake up one day and realize you are\have a mentor. Comment below with experiences you have had with an unplanned mentoring relationship.