One of the surest ways to keep your best employees is to take an active role in their growth and development. Doing so casts you into the role of a mentor, someone who can help them grow and reach their full potential, whatever that may be.
If you’ve never acted as a mentor before, it takes a set of skills that are distinct from “managing” the person. Although, great managers will usually gravitate towards mentoring their subordinates. We have identified a few keys to truly successful mentorship:
- Understand your mentee’s goals and aspirations– Part of the role of a mentor is to help their mentee clarify their goals and help them determine what they will need to do to achieve them. Some individuals know from very early on exactly what they want, but they are the exception. Most have short-term goals related to their next promotion or raise but relatively few think about their entire prospective career path.
“What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals.” - Henry David Thoreau
- Learn your mentee’s attributes – In order to guide your mentee, you have to understand their skills, abilities and shortcomings. Provide them with guidance on how to leverage their strengths and minimize the impact of their shortcomings or overcome them entirely. You should be able to have a frank discussion with your mentee about their faults and shortcomings, but do it in a way that builds them up rather than tearing them down.
“Every weakness contains within itself a strength.” - Shusaku Endo
- Teach your mentee – An important attribute of a good mentor is that they must be a good teacher. This does not mean that the person has to be a trained educator, or know theories on education. It means they have to be patient and understand how their mentee learns. Some mentees are sponges and pick up everything you show them. Others are experiential learners who need to do something for themselves to understand it. As a mentor, you have to be flexible and committed to teach in a way your mentee can learn.
“Teaching is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire” – William Butler Yates
- Be a model – No, not Gisele Bundchen! You have to model the behaviors you want your mentor to follow. A mentee will not only listen to what you say, they will also watch what you do. Model your behavior around the values you want to instill in your mentee. If you are trying to extol the virtues of hard work to your mentee, cutting out after lunch to play golf everyday probably isn’t going to cut it.
“What you do speaks so loud that I can’t hear what you say.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
- Encourage your mentee –Your role, as a mentor is to help instill in your mentee, the absolute belief that they can achieve greatness. Because progress is not a linear up-hill progression, but a path of peaks and valleys, it is important to provide encouragement at the times when it is needed most. Help your mentee stay focused on their long-term goals and not be overwhelmed by the cares of the day.
“Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.”- Mark Twain
- Be a guide – One of the things that puts you in the position of a mentor is you have, at least in part, already done what your mentee wants to do. Your role is to help them navigate through the difficulties of achieving their goals. Like a skilled guide, you should endeavor to keep your mentee on the pathway to success and prevent them from going off-course through distraction.
“One of the greatest values of mentors is the ability to see ahead what others cannot see and to help them navigate a course to their destination.” — John C. Maxwell
- Be vulnerable – One of the hardest things to do is to admit weakness. Admit when you do not know something. Especially when that person is someone who looks up to you and works directly for you. Admitting when you do not know something or need help is an important lesson you can demonstrate to your mentee.
“Vulnerability is not knowing victory or defeat, it’s understanding the necessity of both; it’s engaging. It’s being all in.” – Brené Brown
Being a mentor is not easy. It represents a huge commitment of time, attention and effort. However, being a mentor is also rewarding and fulfilling. Have comments or experiences related to mentorship that you would like to share? We would love to hear from you!