A friend, David, asked me recently, “Why do you mentor?”It was during a casual conversation and I gave a casual answer, “Because someone asked me to mentor.” As I reflected on the conversation later, however, I realized that my response while mostly true did not give David very useful insight into my motivations and passions around serving as a mentor to fellow employees, other actuaries and people from other dimensions of my life.
So why do I almost always respond positively when I am asked to mentor? My strongest driver is that I have benefited hugely from being a mentee myself. Early in my career, a few pivotal questions, observations, ideas and encouragements from mentors helped me approach decisions from a different perspective which then altered my trajectory and ultimately changed my life. I hope I will never forget the conversation in which a senior partner counseled me to respond to an opportunity or challenge by first looking for reasons to say “YES!” instead of quickly marshalling all the reasons to say “No thanks.” Having enjoyed the consequences of taking this advice to heart over the decades, I now find myself eager to pay it forward by having some similar impact on energetic members of the next generations.
I also really appreciate the cost/benefit ratio of mentoring. With a lot of my mentoring relationships I might be contributing only a few hours a month of preparation, face time and follow-up which generates potentially significant opportunities or insights for the mentee. For example, when I introduce a mentee to one of my friends or colleagues whom I think they should meet, it takes me but a few minutes to brief the parties and make the introduction. Yes, I also am taking a little risk that their ensuing conversation will not go well and I might have dissipated some goodwill to little positive effect. But these “costs” are minimal in comparison to the potential value of a young person getting a warm introduction to a leader in the profession or in the community.
This brings me to confess that there is a situation in which I readily will decline to start (or perhaps decline to continue) a mentoring relationship. If it becomes clear to me that the mentee is not going to put a reasonable amount work or effort into the mentoring relationship, I know that it is time to check whether our expectations are reasonably aligned. I have learned that if the mentee is not hungry for the mentoring and is not willing to invest time and energy, then our relationship is not likely to develop well and the mentoring is not likely to be very impactful.
I do a lot of other volunteering for the actuarial profession and I enjoy almost all of that work, but mentoring is something very special. Much of my volunteer work is a step or two removed from the target audience. For example, when I edited a CAS publication I did not get to observe the reader’s reaction. When I helped organize speakers for a seminar in Vietnam, I might never meet the attendees. By contrast, I truly appreciate the tight personal focus of mentoring; working one-on-one with the person who is asking for assistance whether at a coffee shop around the corner, or on a video call stretching halfway around the globe. And when I am mentoring an actuary (current, future, or potential), my appreciation of the direct personal contact is amplified by knowing that I am not helping only that individual, I am also giving back to our profession and perhaps even helping make our profession more diverse.
I am very aware that I have benefited from being a mentor. Engaging in this activity has helped me practice and improve various soft skills; my active listening skills, for example. And, I have been the recipient of some very helpful guidance from my mentees. I can recall several instances when mentees helped me see my way to a better approach on a difficult issue with which I was struggling.
Finally, I must admit that most of my mentoring is really fun! I am meeting and getting to know interesting and energetic individuals, people with whom I typically have some common ground. I enjoy hearing about their challenges, opportunities, struggles and successes and sharing some stories about mine. I gain new insights from listening to their perspectives and from trying to articulate my thoughts on a tough issue we are discussing.
How about you: are you a mentor? I’d love to hear why … or why not!