When you imagine what generosity looks like, what images come to mind? Children sharing toys or snacks? People donating money to a cause? Groups coming together to support families in need? These are wonderful examples, and I have been fortunate to participate in all of these. But my absolute favorite thing to donate happens to be my most valuable possession … my time.
I love sharing my experiences and expertise with others. Sometimes they do not have any other resources, and I might say or do that one thing that changes their life. I often readily volunteer to do what needs to be done if no one else steps up to the plate. Occasionally I am criticized for being too available—typically by well-meaning people who say I dilute my brand by giving my material away for free.
However, I don’t consider these transactions to be “free” because the recipients must also use their most valuable possession, their time. For me, it is all about the Golden Rule. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
I recently asked the audience members at an event if they lived by the Golden Rule. Some raised their hands but many didn’t. I then asked if they knew what the Golden Rule was, and again some raised their hands but many didn’t. When I defined it and asked who had ever experienced it, everyone’s hands went up. Maybe generosity needs to be brought back into fashion. As with everything, education and reminders are important.
Being generous is about giving without any expectations of receiving. However, being generous also means you are able to receive. How many times have you given someone a compliment and the person looked at you and either said nothing, looked shocked, or began to explain why what you said isn’t really so?
Today there are many companies and businesses that exemplify corporate and community responsibility by giving back and donating. It helps that more and more people are prioritizing doing business with companies that are philanthropic.
Consider what your business or employer stands for and who your market is. Are they well matched? Moreover, does the business consistently operate in accordance with its stated values, and do those values align with yours?
It is deeply rewarding to give something great to your clients as well as the larger community. There is much good to be done in the world, and all of us can contribute.
One of my greatest joys is giving with the pure intention of giving by paying it forward. Now make no mistake, my company is a for-profit company and I have bills to pay like everyone else, but I always make time to pay it forward and mentor young women.
For much of my career, I was either the only woman or one of the only women in the room. I launched my company, Selling In A Skirt, to support women, particularly those working in male-dominated fields. I wanted to show women how to succeed in business without sacrificing their values or attributes. I wanted them to understand we inherently have amazing feminine qualities that can propel us forward in business … if we use them correctly.
While mentoring young women naturally complements my work at Selling In A Skirt, I mentored women for many years before launching this business. Each of the young women I have mentored throughout my career just needed a little help. Some may have needed it for a longer period of time than others, but in truth, what they all most needed was someone who cared. Someone to help them get a leg up without judging their mistakes, and someone who believed in them when maybe they felt like no one else did.
A mentor offers perspective, insight, and encouragement. Mentors give their mentees the benefit of their education and experience to help develop the mentees’ skills and abilities.
Both parties need to want to be in this partnership and must feel free to ask each other questions and challenge one another. By no means is it necessary that they agree on everything.
This is how we all learn, and each relationship is unique. If you have mentored more than one person, you know firsthand how different each mentoring experience can be. Ideally your mentee will go on to mentor someone else, and the cycle of paying it forward will continue. Mentors learn more than they might expect, and the experience is priceless.
If you are an emerging leader, why might you seek a mentor? Here are a few reasons.
1. Mentors have been there and done that. You can learn from your mentor’s mistakes as well as their successes.
2. You can talk to someone who is nonjudgmental and has no preconceived notions about you. They see you for you. I see potential in all my mentees that they may not yet see in themselves.
3. Mentors generally have a valuable network of business contacts they might introduce you to when the time is right. While you might otherwise meet and connect with some of these people on your own, your mentor may be able to condense that timeline.
4. The relationship is priceless. The experience is invaluable.
5. Open, honest discussions with your mentor may uncover new areas of interest. You may even discover that your passion and purpose emerge from what now feels like clutter in your brain.
On the other side of the equation, why might you want to be a mentor? Beyond what I already have mentioned, here are a few additional benefits.
1. Being a mentor can help you with generational challenges. Since you typically will be working with someone younger than you, it can provide up close insight into a professional of that age, which might help bridge generation gaps in various parts of your life.
2. Being a mentor can help you redefine your own career path and goals. Many times as you share information and experience, you may ask yourself why you aren’t doing what you advise your mentee to do.
3. Even though you might have begun working decades ago, do you remember how it felt to be the new kid on the block? It can be deeply gratifying to help orient someone else and provide them with a road map for a smoother journey.
4. You can have a positive, tremendous impact on someone’s life. Mentoring is a significant responsibility. Do you know how it feels when a former mentee tells you how you changed their life? This may not happen right away. It could be years later when they remind you of a thought, phrase, or idea you shared. You may never know the full effects of your efforts.
Let’s say you have decided you would like to become a mentor. Congratulations! Here are a few tips on being an amazing one.
1. Approach each mentee and mentoring relationship as if it is unique, because it is. Prepare questions to ask yourself as well as your mentee(s). Here are some possibilities: What are your expectations? How will you communicate so that it is optimal for both parties? How will you measure success? How will you make the time together beneficial and safe?
2. Think about what you would have liked or did like when you were in a position similar to your mentee’s. As you refresh your memory, also allow yourself to be informed by what did not work for you.
3. Be interested in your mentee as a person, not as another job. This relationship is very personal and valuable. Get to know them and what makes them who they are. You do not have to be best friends, but you also do not want to be so clinical that it feels as if you are a doctor and they are the patient. Ask a lot of questions and show you are actively listening. Sure, it is important to learn more about their desired career path and what they are struggling with, but it also can be meaningful to hear about that championship football game from the past weekend or the concert they have been looking forward to for months. Many senior leaders struggle with work-life balance. Your mentee might be able to shed some light on that for you.
4. Do not be too quick to advise your mentee with the hopes you will appear to be a prophetic knight in shining armor. Get all the details regarding their current situation, ask more questions, and consider various possible courses of action for your mentee. Just as you would do when you have a big decision to make for your business, take time to review the information before advising. By the way, demonstrating how you take time to consider and try to fully understand what may be at stake is also a valuable lesson for your mentee.
5. With that said, do not assume anything about your mentee. Just because they are a certain gender, generation, or ethnicity, does not mean they fit stereotypes. This is where even more questions can deliver valuable information. Even if think you’ve been there, done that, and bought the T-shirt, remember that the circumstances, times, and people involved are different. Ask, listen, and then offer your feedback. We all know what happens when we assume, right?
6. Be real with your mentee. It is fine, in fact it’s healthy, to let them know you are not perfect. As appropriate, share some of your past mistakes or failures. For example, I was devastated when I did not pass my first insurance exam. When I share that with my mentees, they tend to appreciate my honesty and vulnerability. Plus they can see that that one little setback, although it seemed monumental to me at the time, was truly just a hiccup and a lesson.
7. Acknowledge and celebrate your mentee’s achievements and milestones. This can boost their motivation and confidence, and help keep them focused.
8. Lead by example. Remember you are their role model. They are watching you even when you don’t think they are. You cannot simply say you have a strong work ethic or high integrity … you must live it. Being a mentor keeps you at your best.
Life’s deepest rewards come from helping others and expecting nothing in return. If you truly can release expectations, you might be surprised by what comes your way. Generosity is a magical cycle.
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Adapted and printed with permission from the book Walking On The Glass Floor by Judy Hoberman.