Finding Time to Mentor

Dear DW,
I am busy full tilt at work. But I am often asked to mentor younger colleagues. If I said yes to everyone, my workload would become unmanageable. How can I handle this?
Signed, Overwhelmed

Dear Overwhelmed,
If you’ve benefited from the advice and experience of more seasoned colleagues, you know how valuable such help can be. But have you considered the benefits you can gain from being a mentor?

“Mentoring skills are highly transferable,” says Lois J. Zachary, PhD, director of the Center for Mentoring Excellence in Phoenix and author of the forthcoming book Starting Strong: A Mentoring Fable. “It’s a leadership competency that you add to your tool kit.” What’s more, you’re likely to gain fresh ideas and perspectives from spending time with someone who’s just starting out.

That said, it’s worth taking time to think about what you have to offer as a mentor, why advising others is important to you, and how you can best use the time you have to give. What are the biggest strengths you have to offer younger colleagues? Which colleagues are likely to make the most of your counsel? “It’s important to look for a good learning fit between what the mentee is looking for and what your skills are,” says Zachary. If you have your own priorities in mind, you’re likely to feel more comfortable saying an enthusiastic yes to some requests—and turning down others that aren’t such a good fit.

As for adding mentoring to an already tight schedule, you might consider group mentoring, if you’re often asked for advice on the same topics. And remember that mentoring doesn’t always have to happen during office hours. You might schedule a lunch with a mentee, or even a walk at the end of the workday. One other suggestion from Zachary: to free up time, find some tasks you can delegate to someone else—ideally, duties that provide that person with an opportunity to learn something new.

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