As professional Baby Boomers reach retirement age, they have a wealth of life and work experiences, causing them to gain wisdom along the way. Mentoring provides some of these retirees a way to transfer that perspective to deserving organizations. I had the opportunity to interview a number of Miller Center mentors, as well as skilled volunteers in other settings to learn how they have been effective in constructively transferring that advice to social entrepreneurs and non-profits.
Mentors have a range of diverse backgrounds, both in the public and private sectors. They bring all of that knowledge and judgment to the mentoring table. Mentors offer a powerful combination of advice, empathy, and guidance that can be transformational to organizations that are doing socially important work. In turn, these retirees keep their skills sharp, while having a strong sense of purpose through their contribution to progress in socially worthwhile projects. Let’s hear some quotes from experienced mentors, and the techniques they use to transfer their earned wisdom effectively:
“A big part of my wisdom as a mentor is because of where I sit. I am on the outside looking in. I don’t have all of the distractions of the day to day operations of the business. So the perspectives that I can give to the entrepreneur can be guided by the big picture that the entrepreneur often misses because they are so close to the business.”
“People began to gravitate to me because they knew I didn’t have an agenda. I didn’t belong to any of the constituencies. People trusted me because I didn’t have anything to gain by telling lies.”
“Questions matter. Mentors are here to build lasting skills in the entrepreneur. Questions cause the entrepreneur to learn how to think through a problem. When the mentor provides an answer instead of a question, they simply are not building the lasting skills of the entrepreneur.”
“What I did as a banker is interesting and can be very helpful, but you learn a whole lot more in a non-profit. You’re not stagnant at all because the challenges we face are different because of what we do. I’m really doing governance things as one would do in a typical for-profit.”
“I try to incorporate all kinds of styles throughout the mentorship. Sometimes I’ll say, “I know we’ve got a real problem there.” I’m going to ask and try to gather some information around it. I’ve got to build the foundation of trust. I always try to do that with a bit of humor, mostly self-deprecating.”
“I think preparing tutorials has much higher scaling value. If I can help 20 mentors be somewhat more effective, that’s a much better payback. That’s always motivated me to find ways to help, one degree removed from the front line.”
“Probably more than anything that I bring to these men and women is having started my own business twice, one not successful, one somewhat successful. I really appreciate the struggle. I can appreciate what they’re going through to try to build their business. At times, there are not a lot of folks to talk to. When you can grab somebody that’s willing to listen, it’s really helpful and meaningful.”
Miller Center calls its mentors the “secret sauce.” They are fundamental to the guidance that is provided to motivated social entrepreneurs. Each of these mentors brings their own style, their own skills, and their own way of helping. Other mentors also have their own styles and techniques, so this is just the tip of the iceberg of ways that perceptive mentors are transferring their wisdom and expertise to support people and organizations who are making a difference in the world.
About Richard Haiduck
Richard Haiduck is a former life sciences executive and mentor to startup biotech CEO’s He is now enjoying an active and productive retirement. He is putting the finishing touches on Shifting Gears: 50 Baby Boomers Share Their Meaningful Journey into Retirement based on 75+ interviews with active retirees who are reinventing this stage of their life. The book is scheduled for release in November.
Richard has served as a panelist multiple times and as a mentor for six social entrepreneurs. He is currently mentoring Every Shelter, which utilizes the power of design to provide dignified temporary housing solutions for displaced communities around the world, and TILAA, which provides innovative approaches to improve opportunities for small bee and cashew farmers in Ghana.