How to Become a Mentor with Sheri Hart

On the podcast last week, I interviewed my good friend Sheri Hart for round two of the topic of mentorship.  Sheri is an Associate Connections Director in Performance Content at VMLY&R. VMLY&R is a global brand experience agency made up of nearly 7,000 employees worldwide, with one of its principal offices located in Kansas City.

Sheri has been a leader of people for more than 10 years, and her passion is making sure that there is grace that allows for humanity in the workplace.  Here are the takeaways from that interview:

What made you want to start mentoring?

Like many people, I was introduced to the idea in the workplace. While I wasn’t always in a “people leader” type role when I first started out, I found that there were a lot of situations where I found myself listening to what others were dealing with and wanting to help. A lot of times people can find their own solutions just by discussing their problem out loud, and I enjoyed spending time listening and looking for questions to help guide them along the way. But you have to make yourself approachable or people won’t even think about starting a conversation in the first place.

Later in my career as I was promoted into roles where I had Direct Reports, it became my job to manage them, but I found that by not just doing the requisite reviews that the company requires, I really get joy from the opportunity to build relationships and extend the topics we were covering to broaden the process beyond Managing to Leading.

If someone is looking to be a Mentor, what steps should they take to make that happen?

Honestly, some things you can’t MAKE it happen. But for the most part, it is about building relationships and being a good role model or example in the workplace or whatever field that you want to be known in. People will tend to migrate your way if they see you modeling empathy, doing good work, and being good on your word. Trust is a huge factor. If people see you as trustworthy, they are so much more likely to feel comfortable opening up and discussing what can be some personal topics. Feedback can be difficult for many, trust is key.

If you’re moving this direction because you have direct reports, set up a formal structure. I typically meet with people for an hour each month, formally, and then whenever they ask if I have a minute we can find some time to talk if something more immediate comes up.

Things to consider:

This is THEIR career or situation….they should be the owners of the time. Think of it like they are driving the car, you are the GPS. Help guide them through the conversation, providing “are you supposed to turn here?” or “you might want to make a U-Turn here”…along the way.

That sounds great, but how do you do that?

As for them being the drivers, let them know that they are responsible for bringing the agenda to each meeting. It can be a certain situation they want to discuss or general questions that they have, so nothing major…but they can’t just sit down and expect you to make it all happen for them.

As for guiding….I find it is all about asking the right questions. I try to never ask a question that can be answered with “yes” “no” or “fine”. It’s the difference between saying “How are you?”, which can easily be answered with “fine” and the conversation stops, and saying “What is going well?” and letting them search their thoughts to provide any small wins they might have had.

So, clearly, questions and seeking more information are a key piece of the puzzle…what other things do you look to have in your toolbox?

There are a ton of different assessments and activities you can explore to either help you understand your mentee better as well as help them understand themselves.

Not the least of which is the Enneagram test which you have explored on your podcast and in your blog.

There is the old standard Myers-Briggs. There are free versions out there and a lot of content available on how to read and understand the various types. I’m an ENJF….but the N and J are flexible…the E and F are NOT. J These things are helpful to know if you were going to be mentoring me.

I use a short list I created with the different types of things that motivate people to explore what drives them. Do they love public praise or does that mortify them?  Are they driven by how much money they make or what benefits are provided? (PS…that’s not a bad thing and it’s OK if that’s your answer.) It just makes a difference in the types of goals you set and the type of workplace you may be looking for.

I have a list of, I think 16 different motivators….we go through them together and rank them. It doesn’t mean that the 16th thing on the list doesn’t matter, it just means less than the one they ranked as #1. Those things help me know what they can be doing to find those things in their career, as well as what I should focus on when given them positive reinforcement or guidance.

For example, I’m a “celebrate every victory, no matter how small” kind of person, but someone else might think tiny wins are nothing, they just want the big GOAL. Neither of us is right or wrong, but it’s helpful information to have as I work to provide leadership for them.

There are also exercises about writing your own personal mantra or finding your core values. Again, some people respond to these exercise with enthusiasm, and some would rather poke themselves in the eye with a fork than go through them, so you can’t just blow in with all of them and overwhelm with your “toolkit”, but it’s helpful to have a lot of them so that you find the right mix for each individual.

It’s a lot to think about, what would be your final thoughts on Being a Mentor?

I guess one additional thought would be that while you are a mentor and a guide, unless you are trained to do so, you are not a mental health expert. If someone is dealing with something serious and needs help, your role is not to try to fix that, but to help them find the resources to do so.

Mostly, that it’s not about YOU. It’s about THEM.

But, that if you find yourself with an opportunity to be a mentor, you will find that it is highly rewarding for you as well and that sometimes you’ll have a session where you learn way more than they do.

To hear the entire episode, go to www.adultingwithcj.com/podcast/021.

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