Co-authored with Lisa Z. Fain.

As horrific as these first weeks of the global pandemic have been and as alarming and worrisome as the months to come will be, shelter-in-place presents an unexpected opportunity. Most people have multiple items on their to-do list, things that they’ve postponed and re-postponed for “someday.”  The most common thing people save for “someday” is their own development.

illustration of woman sitting at desk with laptop

“Someday” is here, right now. We are called to pay attention. We need to make the most of this time. Time has an odd way of melting away and we can’t control it but can take action so we do not squander it.

We are reminded about the importance of connection in this time. We are in a global crisis because of our interconnectedness, and yet, it is the crisis itself that requires us to physically distance ourselves from one another. It is connectedness itself that will get us through. 

We know that isolation and loneliness itself can be harmful to our health. One recent study even suggested that loneliness can shorten a person’s life by 15 years, the same amount as obesity or smoking. 

In addition to the loneliness that comes from being physically distant, people are concerned about their own financial health. There have been millions of layoffs and furloughs. People are questioning their future and worrying about how to feel financially, professionally and intellectually stable. This uncertainty begets worry, which causes us to lose perspective and often, to withdraw. And so, though it is crucial to physically distance ourselves, it is social connection – not social distancing – that we need.

As mentoring experts we speak with confidence when we say mentoring is needed now more than ever. Mentoring is about connection. It is about creating meaningful relationships in work and personal relationships where mentoring partners focus on growth and development. Mentoring drives authentic conversation and promotes meaningful, supportive and sustainable relationships.

There are, of course, other benefits as well.  Mentors say that through mentoring they gain knowledge about what is happening in other parts of their organization. Their perspectives are often challenged and then expanded as mentors get exposed to new ideas. They increase their own leadership competencies and find that they their individual interpersonal skills are enhanced. There are satisfaction and feel-good elements as well: satisfaction from seeing mentees develop and grow and good feelings from sharing their experience, expertise and wisdom.

For mentees, mentoring provides a welcome safety net, often reducing their stress levels. The pace of new learning increases for mentees. They gain self-confidence as their mentors create opportunities for them to test out new ideas and encourage them to try new things. Mentees feel supported as they explore career options, gain organizational knowledge and receive candid feedback.

Given these benefits, there is every reason to keep the learning and development platform moving forward. Our time in isolation provides opportunity to work on personal and professional development, self-improvement, increase capability and experience self-renewal. Rather than wait until someday, we must keep moving forward.

What better time to focus on growth and development? Many people now have time and tools like Zoom, FaceTime, GoToMeeting and Skype that make it easy to engage in virtual mentoring from home. 

We know that virtual mentoring works, and it is effective. The skepticism that surrounded its efficacy just a decade ago has all but disappeared. Users, too, have become more sophisticated and adept over time. Since the emergence of Covid-19, the urgency and ability to work and learn from home has increased exponentially.

Here are some things to keep in mind:

  1. Mentoring is a reciprocal learning relationship between two or more individuals, typically a mentor and mentee. It focuses on achievement of mutually defined development goals and outcomes.
  2. Effective mentoring functions as a partnership. How it is conducted is determined by the individuals involved. You get to write your own rules about accountability, confidentiality, boundaries, and the like.
  3. Good conversation is especially important in any mentoring relationship, but more so in virtual mentoring.
  4. Although technology has the advantage of simulating real-time interaction, it also has its challenges, not the least of which are technology glitches. Having a “Plan B” helps. If the only means for you to connect is your phone, don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good.  Use your phone connection and move forward.
  5. All mentoring depends on establishing and maintaining meaningful points of connection. This means taking the time to build relationship and trust before the actual work of mentoring begins.
  6. Mentoring requires time, and now that you have it be sure you block off a realistic amount of time—and then protect that time. Keep in mind that it takes time to get to know someone.

Remember Benjamin Franklin’s words,  “Lost time is never found again.”  Someday has only just begun.

Now is prime time for mentoring.  You could be lending your time and talent to support someone else. What knowledge and experience do you have that might support and strengthen someone else right now? Or, you could be working on your own growth and development. What knowledge and experience might take you to the next level? What are some of those things that you never had time to do that would nurture you, help you grow?

Once you’ve answered these questions, it is time to get work and find a mentoring partner.

  1. Decide what you want to learn.
  2. Acknowledge the reality of the present time. Many people are hurting or experiencing overwhelm.  Take the time to discuss how each of you is really.
  3. Invest time and effort to set the climate for learning – setting, space, lighting, connection.
  4. Set a regular contact schedule but be flexible. Whether it is kids, dogs or UPS deliveries, there are bound to be more distractions than normal.
  5. Check in on your relationship and evaluate your progress frequently to make sure the learning is meaningful.

Dr. Lois J. Zachary and Lisa Fain are co-authors of the recently released book Bridging Differences for Better Mentoring, from Berrett-Koehler Publishers.