Tory Johnson Says Be a Mentor

This holiday week is an ideal time to reflect on what you have and to be grateful for it, especially since most of us have more than others do. So go ahead: be thankful. I know I am.

But it's also a good opportunity for all of us, no matter what you do to put food on the table, to think about the "giving" part of the holiday, especially since most of us have more to give than others do.

One of the most rewarding ways to give is to pass along some of what you know to someone who is just getting started in the work world or is in somewhat of a rut.

I know, I know. You're too busy with kids or your own work or your own personal challenges to possibly think about spending time dealing with someone else's worries. You're not alone. These are uncertain times in America and certainly in the workplace where very few jobs are absolutely guaranteed.

Even though I don't have a beef with any of them, in some ways I can't help but think the explosion of gated communities, the addiction this country has with impenetrable SUVs, and our obsession with iPods are all witness to our collective desires to tune out and keep away other people.

And while everyone needs a break to zone out every now and then, we tend to focus so heavily on our own issues, which is understandable in our chaotic lives, but we often do it to the exclusion of recognizing the great benefit to be had by helping others.

Try Being a Mentor.

A typical mentor voluntarily offers one-on-one, non-judgmental support and encouragement. I'd like to think that most of us are already mentors and don't even realize it. To our children, family and friends, we readily dispense our wisdom to help with a range of problems while encouraging them to move forward.

Consider taking the opportunity to do the same for someone you work with. You don't have to be some high-powered executive with a big title and six-figure salary to have something great to offer. Look at the people around you. Is there someone new at the office who is having a rough start? Maybe there's a disgruntled colleague stuck in a rut. Take a chance at providing that person with the benefit of your advice and experience.

Once you've identified someone you think could benefit from a little help, the first thing you can do is take the time to talk to them on a more personal level. Instead focusing solely on work-related communication, take a moment to ask how he or she is doing in general. Tell them that you're available if they ever want to talk. It's important to show them that you are approachable, sincere and eager to chat.

If this person is too shy or seems uncomfortable in asking for advice then you'll need to take charge and make the first move. Ask if he or she would like to get coffee or even lunch.

Once you're at the point where your colleague is talking, the best thing you can do is be a good listener. When first being told what a particular problem is, it is best to just pay attention and take in everything this person has to say. More often than not, a good mentor is someone who acts as an adviser -- someone who can bounce ideas back and forth -- and listening will be the most important skill in giving specific and thoughtful advice.

Maybe your colleague will reveal a difficulty in balancing family responsibilities with those at work. Perhaps he or she is finding it hard to fit in socially at the office or possibly feels overwhelmed by their duties.

After learning about your colleague's situation you'll need to assess how you best can help guide this person. Think about specific instances in your life in which you experienced a similar dilemma. How did you solve that particular problem and move forward? Share a personal story, and speak candidly about it.

Sharing these stories with a colleague will break down any barriers and instantly allow you to form a bond that will provide the basis for your role as an effective mentor.

Communication and Trust Are Essential.

You should continue to meet and talk with this person, offering your guidance and support while getting a better understanding of the problems he or she is facing. Communication and trust are the most important elements in being an effective mentor.

Don't think of mentoring someone as a lifetime sentence where you'll be forever saddled with someone's troubles. Sometimes you'll want to maintain a long-term professional friendship, but often the person you're helping will catch on quickly and move on, which is fine if that's your intention.

So go ahead, e-mail a colleague to offer your ear or get up from your computer to chat with them in person. You're likely to find an appreciative response at the other end. And you'll be well on your way to enjoying the rich and rewarding benefit of knowing that you did a very good deed for someone in need.

Similarly, if in the past several months someone was there for you -- to listen, to advise, to assist -- take a moment right now to wish them a pleasant holiday. Send off an e-mail letting them know that you have not forgotten their help and you'll be forever grateful and appreciative. Offer to reciprocate if the need should present itself. You'll no doubt make someone's day with your genuine thoughtfulness.

That is what this week is all about.

To contact Tory Johnson or for more career advice, visit