No matter your age, a mentor can help you improve

Mentoring is not just for young professionals. No matter where you are in your career, there is someone who knows more than you, who can help you gain a better understanding of yourself and improve your skills.

“You are never too young or too old to be mentored, if you want your journey to always be challenging and fulfilling,” says Betty Collins, director at Brady Ware & Company. “A good mentor can help you discover your why, even if you are in the later stages of your career.”

Smart Business spoke with Collins about how a mentor can help you reach your goals, and the pitfalls to avoid when mentoring.

What is the best approach to mentoring?

From an individual perspective, start by observing the people around you, who you are drawn to for being a mentor or mentee. Who needs something? Observe who has all the potential but doesn’t know how to get there. Don’t make it harder than it has to be. Start with two or three things. Wipe out what’s not important and focus on what is.

Also remember that a mentee must be willing and open to learning and receiving help. If you are dragging someone along, that is not going to be effective.

Regarding organizational approaches, smart companies invest in a formal mentoring program. That makes it more intentional, and intentionality is huge. Work with an HR consultant to identify companies that do this well. Ask people you respect who have been a part of mentoring for their perspective . But, keep it simple. Don’t create a burden; it should be about growing. A formal mentoring project helps keep employees longer, keep them engaged and develop continuity. A company that does it right will get its money back in the long run.

Women, especially, can benefit from mentorship from other women, encouraging others not to make their same mistakes, while helping them step out of their comfort zone. Communicate in a way that resonates to save them some of the hard steps.

When you’re in your 20s, everything is on the table. You think you can do anything and have it all, and you think you have forever to do it. In those years, there is a lot of ambition, and if it isn’t channeled correctly, the 30s are much harder. Then you have a family and a house and your priorities change. That’s when people get stuck in a rut because they are overwhelmed.

In your 40s, you think you need to make it count, buy another house, retire sooner. By your 50s, you’ve done pretty well and want to do things on your own terms. Every season has a different ambition, and a need for a different kind of mentor.

What are some common mistakes people make when mentoring?

Too often, people expect someone, especially someone younger, to be and understand what they themselves know. They expect others to grow the same way they’ve grown, which is a huge assumption and usually results in failure.

The purpose of mentorship is not to have people do everything you want them to but to help them grow into their careers. And while doing so may help you and your business, it also may not. Mentoring goes well beyond your business, and that person can be outside of it. You’re helping someone develop their personal and professional skills so they have a quality journey. People only get one shot, and if you’re able to, you need to help them get through.

People often think mentoring goes one way, but a younger person may have the skills to mentor up. An older person can learn so much from a younger person’s approach, so don’t close yourself off to potential opportunities. You don’t know what you don’t know. Be open to criticism and learning, and put yourself out there.

How can a mentor and mentee keep the relationship on track?

Schedule times to talk. Accountability is key. Mentoring is not warm and fuzzy. It’s, ‘Here’s what we talked about doing. Are you doing it?’ It’s also career counseling. ‘Here’s what you’re doing, here’s what you’d like to do. What are the expectations? What additional skillsets do you need?

Mentoring is crucial. Too many businesses overlook it and instead look to annual reviews or supervisors as ‘mentorship,’ but that’s not mentoring. Take the time to create true mentoring relationships and everyone will benefit.

Insights Accounting is brought to you by Brady Ware & Company.