Impact: How Do You Measure Yours?

This post originally appeared on the RoseMont Institute web site. I look forward to your thoughts and comments.

Mentoring is integral to leadershipThis is the time of year when many of us look back on the year to assess what went well, what didn’t, and what we’d wish we’d done differently. It is particularly poignant this year with the recent tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut that was a grim reminder that none of us knows how many days we have in this life. For those of us not directly touched by this or other dramatic event, there is still reason to reflect on the impact our lives make.

I recently came across an interesting article about mentorship — and the supposed death of those relationships between those later in their careers with those on the way up. The author, Maynard Webb, is a Silicon Valley veteran and I have to say that as a semi-grey hair I was pleased to see concern coming from the epicenter of young blood and start ups.

In the Fast Company article, Webb lays out a number of reasons for the decline of mentoring: shorter tenure at companies at all levels, the radical thinning of middle management, the fear of older workers that they’ll be eliminated by lower paid young hot shots, declining formal mentoring programs in hyper-lean organizations, and more work performed remotely. He might also have added technology changes that can make older workers feel out of touch (or afraid to perceived as such).

It is a sad picture. The transfer of knowledge from one generation to the next is one of the fundamental elements of social cohesion and the accumulation of valuable institutional knowledge. Mentorship is inseparable from leadership.

I currently have informal mentoring relationships with three people. Two are former students from the exec ed program in which I teach. The other is a recent grad school grad referred by a friend of her dad. In each of these relationships, I learn a great deal and am honored to be able to pass along a bit of what I have learned. The time involved is a treat, not a chore.

Webb offers a number of suggestions for both individuals and companies that are worth a read. I’d like to pass along one that I’ve recently started at the suggestion of a coach: keeping an impact list that chronicles my impact on the lives of others.

The impact list is not meant to be an exercise in self-congratulation. Instead, its purpose is to capture that which can easily be forgotten in our fast-paced lives: The introduction of one person to another that leads to an opportunity. Advice to someone wrestling with a tough decision.  An informational interview. An on-line exchange about an article. It is not a vast volume of prose; just a few words to capture what happened. For me, the greatest benefit of the impact list is reminding me how many opportunities I have to make an impact — positive or negative — on the people that I encounter every day. Also on the list are notes about the people who have made an impact on me.

Not everyone is a mentor but everyone, for better or worse, is a role model. Try keeping an impact list for a week or two. I think you’ll be surprised by what you see — and what you learn. I predict that it just may inspire you to seek out more chances to mentor.

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