Dr. Fred Mayo describes how listening, encouraging and mentoring others creates powerful insights into ourselves.
By Dr. Fred Mayo, CHE, CHT
Last month, we talked about reflecting on what we are doing and expressing gratitude as two ways to pursue our own professional development and serve as role models to both students and colleagues. This month, we will talk about what we can learn by helping others.
Although it sounds so simple, taking the time to really listen to what a student wants to tell you, a colleague wants to share, or a family member needs to discuss involves real focus. It means dropping other things on your to-do list for that moment and pausing to give the person your full attention. If someone has something to share, you need to clear your mind and really listen to what the individual wants to say. It means not rehearsing a response, it means listening to what the person is saying and to the feelings behind the content. The benefit to the other person is huge; when a person is really listened to, the individual feels seen and noticed, and it brings a lot of affirmation and confidence.
The benefit to you as the listener can include learning something new about that person or cooking, teaching, ways of coping, history, sociology, politics, or relationships. You might get a recommendation for a new book to read, a movie to see, a project to undertake, or a teaching activity to try. In addition, it affirms your sense of yourself as a caring professional who wants to and can make a difference in other peoples’ lives. Engaging in real conversation with the other person often creates new insights for both of you and usually triggers new perspectives about your own situation. Although we are listening to help the other person, the benefits that come our way are often special.
Another way to help others is to support them and root for them. We know what it is like to be there for a team during a culinary competition and to encourage students. However, some of us are not as good at encouraging and cheer leading for colleagues in our programs, in other schools, or in our professional organizations. Taking the time to send them a text of encouragement, a note of appreciation or an email of praise makes a difference in their lives.
It also helps us stay abreast of what is happening in their lives, their programs, and their (and our) professional organizations. It still amazes me how I discovered what was happening by simply sending notes of encouragement to my friends and colleagues. Lots of new insight came and new doors opened. It can happen to you as well.
One of the most sophisticated roles you can play for others is to serve as their mentor and coach. It entails making a commitment to help a mentee with a wide range of life issues – their personal and professional goals, work and personal issues, professional challenges at work and home, and career opportunities and their dreams. It means making a contract – often informal and not written – about how you will help the person and how long you will serve as a mentor.
Some of the challenges of mentoring involve focusing on the other person and agreeing to help regardless of the implications. It also involves using your reputation and working hard to ensure your mentee’s success once you are identified as mentoring the person. It also involves tough love; while your goals are to help that person in what he or she wants to do, there are times that you need to provide constructive feedback about what the individual is doing or wants to do. In my experience – and that of many mentors I know – the mentee may be unable or unwilling to accept the feedback. Helping the person hear what you are trying to say while not softening the message can be a real challenge. It does not mean that the delivery of the feedback has to be harsh; it can be very kind and attentive. However, it needs to be clear and helpful; your job includes making sure that the other person absorbs the message.
The other most difficult part of mentoring involves letting go. Often when we mentor a person, we get involved with our mentee’s success and career movement, but there is a time when the person no longer needs us. In fact, your mentoring may limit his or her future opportunities. Freeing the person from the mentoring relationship can be fraught with difficulties since you have invested so much time and energy in the relationship and in your mentee’s future.
When you are a mentor, you learn a lot about setting the parameters for a relationship, maintaining a relationship, focusing a person’s career journey, and disengaging from a relationship. Many of us who mentor learn a lot about jobs, career ladders, professional opportunities, and institutional politics. We also learn a lot about ourselves: what excites us in helping others; what is easy and what is hard for us in mentoring others; and what parts of mentoring we like and dislike. These insights can be very powerful.
Dr. Fred Mayo, CHE, CHT, is retired as a clinical professor of hotel and tourism management at New York University. As principal of Mayo Consulting Services, he continues to teach around the globe and is a regular presenter at CAFÉ events nationwide.