We asked our guidance gurus Peter Bonventre and John Jannuzzi to share their tips on how to be a better mentor.
One day many years ago, the boss called me into his office for a conversation about a young editor at our magazine. He wanted me, as he put it, “to take her under my wing. She’s a little rough around the edges.”
She was immensely talented, and I wanted her to succeed for the greater good of the magazine. The longer we worked together, however, the more I wanted her to succeed for herself. Today, she’s the editor of a national magazine, and makes frequent appearances on television. We became dear friends, and I hope to live long enough to dance at her little girl’s wedding.
Look, I could tell you that I was committed to sharing my knowledge as a journalist and experience as a manager and that I was a first-class role model but I was also lucky: The person who provided me with my most satisfying mentoring gig had the right stuff—brains, drive, moxie. In the end, you could say she made me look good.
Right now, you may be thinking you’ll never have the opportunity or the time to mentor someone with the same care as I did. Even so, you can make a difference in someone’s life simply by extending a helping hand, no matter how briefly. It’s not only the right thing to do, but chew on this: The person who needs your help today could be your boss tomorrow.
Don’t believe me? Try this on for size: In the late ‘90s, a young hotshot named Mark Shapiro was tapped to produce ESPN’s ambitious, multi-hour Sports Century documentary. At the time, I was an editor at Entertainment Weekly magazine, but I was once a sportswriter. Shapiro asked me for an interview, promising it would take about one hour. It took about three. I was one of his first interviews, and he was grateful. “I won’t forget you for this,” he said, and I’m thinking, Yeah, right, what can this kid ever do for me?
Here’s what: A few years later, the kid gets named ESPN’s head of programming, and I get a contract to contribute on-air commentary. I also make a friend for life. That’s one helluva parlay for about three hours of my time, wouldn’t you say?
At one point or another, I became the person that a lot of friends ask for advice. Maybe I’m a particularly good listener (doubtful) or maybe they just think I’m too polite to tell them to shut up, I’m not quite sure. It doesn’t really matter to me, I’m happy to hear people out in one way or another–most people are. And when you open yourself up to it, people will ask you about everything from relationships to financial consulting.
The one thing I try to remember when I’m dishing out (or asking for) advice, no matter the case is pretty simple: Everything is going to be fine. In my experience, whether I’m struggling at work, fighting with the forces of evil, or even after somebody has died (which totally sucks) life always finds its equilibrium. It always becomes “fine”. There’s always going to be a completely shitty time in life, but it ends. It always ends, unless you die (this also totally sucks), but even then it’s supposedly some great adventure.
Breakups, shakeups, financial losses, cuts, scrapes, weight gained, weight lost, it’s all pretty meaningless in the long run. And remembering that in a few minutes, or hours, or days, everything will be back to normal and essentially “better” has kept me sane more often than I’d care to admit. You’re going to be fine, no matter what the outcome.
And knowing that, maybe you should take a risk or two. Also, if she pays it’s not a date. Okay, that’s all the advice you need.