Leadership in the Blue-Collar World: The Importance of Being a Mentor

One person’s success is rarely the result of just their work alone. It’s the culmination of experiences and learning from everyone in their lifetime. Parents, teachers and peers are often credited with helping guide others towards achievement. However, being a mentor is another way that anyone, including those in the blue-collar world, can help shape their own path towards accomplishing their dreams.

Read on to discover how being a mentor can help you grow, professionally and personally, and help you achieve your goals. 

Being a Mentor in the Blue-Collar World

One unique part of the skilled trades is that they have the concept of being a mentor “built in.” Apprenticeships are one way that the mentor/mentee relationship exists, and it’s an important part of entering the trades. While the trades involve a lot of information that can be gathered through other means, being able to gain direct experience under the guidance of an experienced tradesperson can make all the difference.

However, it’s important to remember that strong mentorship is more than just learning specific skills within your career. A mentor is often there to help guide their life skills as well. That means you may take on the mentor role in addition to leading an apprentice, or you may even mentor someone outside of the apprentice role.

How Being a Mentor Helps You

The benefits of having a mentor are obvious. However, you may not appreciate how mentoring another person helps you at the same time! Mentorship can create opportunities for you to grow in unique ways:

Become a  Better Leader

Leadership is often seen as a character trait, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be developed or improved. However, the unique circumstances around leadership make it hard to develop those skills unless you assume the role of a leader first and figure it out from there.

Inspiring trust as a leader is often more of an art than a science. While knowing exactly how to do a specific type of repair may be the same every time, discovering what inspires others and leads them to success requires flexibility and experience.

As you learn more about your mentee and how to guide them towards success, you’ll learn better ways of interacting with others.  

Improve Your Ability to Communicate

The same applies to communication: it’s something you need to practice with others before you can excel at it. As an experienced tradesperson, your experiences shape how you perceive and respond to issues. The ways you communicate a problem or a solution to your peers is different than how you would approach it when discussing with someone new to your field.

Through trial and error, you’ll learn what methods work for explaining information to people who aren’t deeply ingrained in your field of expertise. Not only does this help you when taking on new employees, it can help you when working with clients too. 

It Helps You Self-Evaluate

Doing things the way you’ve always done them is a part of the human condition. In most cases, you tell yourself it’s the best way. Maybe it’s the fastest, the safest or the least costly way to do it! But when you work with someone new, they may ask that earth-shattering question: “Why?”

It’s easy to shake off someone asking why you do something with a vague platitude, but if you take the time to work through it, you may come to realize it’s time to update your methods. It may not be every day, but fresh minds in an old field can often be the catalyst for progress towards newer, faster ideas.

This is just one example of how being a mentor can help you self-evaluate. You may also come across problems with your mentee that you simply can’t figure out. This can be equally good for your own personal growth – turning a problem into an opportunity for you to both solve as a team. 

You Will Build Your Network & Theirs

Building a network is a core part of career growth for anyone in any field. As an established professional, you’re likely to dozens or hundreds of contacts in your network that are integral to day-to-day business. Your apprentice or mentee? They probably don’t!

However, that doesn’t mean you can’t grow your network. Even if they don’t know the volume of people you do, they may have a small number of quality people who would be good to expand your network. Oftentimes, people get into the same trades as their family, meaning you could become connected to other experienced tradespeople – creating an opportunity to join a company or start your own together.

Likewise, being a mentor helps your standing in your community. People you already know may be more likely to introduce you to other groups due to your contribution to helping your community and new workers. 

Tips to Being a Successful Mentor

Mentor Someone You Believe In

Being a mentor sounds like a fulfilling role to take on – because it is! But that doesn’t mean you should jump in and prepare to be a guide to the first person you see. Keep an eye out for those looking for guidance that have the “spark” of ambition. You’ll likely recognize it when you see it. If you’re a business owner, they may have the same goals you had when you were that age.

Mentoring someone that you can see succeeding helps you commit to the role. You’ll be able to envision their path and help them take the steps they need. 

Don’t Give Up

Even with the perfect pupil, being a mentor is hard. It takes work, time and can be stressful even when things are going well.

While giving up is rarely the right call, it’s twice as devastating in a mentor/mentee situation. Not only will you have to endure the guilt of giving up, your apprentice will experience a similar problem adjusting to the sudden departure of their experienced guide.

Don’t Be Afraid to Criticize

When you take someone under your wing, you’ll be working through their successes and their failures too. And it goes without saying that failures are inevitable. Learning new skills is challenging, and few will get it all right the first time.

Don’t shy away from sharing critiques with those who are learning from you. Obviously, being constructive is key, but don’t sugar-coat serious concerns. People need to know where they’re failing to improve!

Be Willing to Accept Criticism Too

Lastly, you’re “learning” too. Being a mentor for the first time is as much a new experience for you as it is to be mentored. You won’t be perfect.

If your communication skills are creating friction, or if you do something in a way that’s unsafe or wrong, don’t discount your mentee’s opinions. Listen to them, consider their validity, and keep open lines of communication whether you agree or disagree. 

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Ken Rusk is a blue-collar entrepreneur who has started several successful endeavors and mentored hundreds of young people in their pursuit of a satisfying career and fulfilling life. Discover how Ken’s approach to life and work can help you set and achieve your goals – all while avoiding the nearly inescapable trap of college debt. Pre-order his new book, Blue Collar Cool: How to Earn Without the College Burn today!