Have you achieved personal or professional success as a result of working with a talented mentor? Has someone helped you get to where you are today by showing you “the ropes”?
If so, perhaps you’re ready to pay it forward and become a trusted advisor to someone who wants to elevate their career or personal pursuits to a much higher level. Becoming an effective mentor takes a lot of time and energy—and there are do’s and don’ts so take heed (and read on).
In our last few posts, Gray Stone Advisors’ has discussed “How to Become a Transformational Leader” and that one of the ways to achieve this is to “Find an Executive Mentor.” We also shared the benefits of being both a mentee and a mentor.
So, let’s quickly recap…
What Exactly is the Role of a Mentor?
According to the dictionary, a mentor is a wise and trusted counselor or teacher, an influential senior sponsor or supporter.
But maybe it’s easier if we discuss what a mentor is not.
First of all, as a mentor, you’re not a nursemaid, a mom or somebody’s minder. Your job is not to follow up and say, “Hey, Johnny, have you done your homework?”
You will not perform “bed checks” (as they do in U.S. college football) or serve as a disciplinarian.
Your mentee will hold the responsibility for their success and serve as their own disciplinarian. The accountability for performance lies with them, not you.
However, your role as a mentor is to serve a catalyst. That is, you are there to aid your mentee in their quest for growth and excellence. And you can help shorten their journey because you’ve been there and done that.
So let’s get into specifics about how to perform the role of a mentor, and how to create some much-needed boundaries along the way.
6 Steps to Get Started as a Mentor
1. Dig Deep
When you first take a call from someone wanting you to mentor them, dig deep before you say, “heck, yes, I’m honored!” In fact, it’s a great idea to have a formal conversation so you can better understand your mentee’s motivations. Does he really want to be a leader? Is she really committed to long-term success? Will he listen and take your advice? Or does she just want to check a box?
As a mentor, you’ll be able to show your mentee how you’ve ‘traveled that long and winding road,’ broken your nose a time or two, failed (and recovered) and what you’ve learned along the way. You can say to your mentee, “Would you like to know 19 ways that don’t work and a couple that do? Because I’ve already broken my nose a couple of times.”
If your mentee is serious and wants to learn from an expert, that’s a great sign. If he thinks he’s got everything covered, it might not be a great fit.
You can help him develop potential all day long, but you cannot develop attitude. If his attitude stinks, think twice about proceeding.
2. Conduct a Gap Analysis
It’s always important to know where your mentee is right now in their personal and professional career.
- Where does she want to go?
- What’s been holding her back?
- Has she received advice as a result of her last annual employment review and/or has she had a 360-degree assessment?
- What type of soft skills, industry knowledge, on-the-job experience and/or technical know-how does she need to acquire for the role she hopes to be in next year or in 2 years?
- Is she even fit for her current role? Fit vs. Fitness is so often overlooked, but it’s a linchpin to ultimate success.
- Has she worked on exploring who she is and how she’s ‘wired’? Self-awareness is a critical component to growth and maturity.
3. Check for ‘Attitude’, But Look for ‘Fire’
Does your mentee have the ability to shift his mindset? Doe she have the passion and fire in his belly to quit doing what’s comfortable? Will he be able to listen, create a written plan and then take charge?
No one can take a magic pill and get to the top. It’s a whole life commitment. Again, if he doesn’t have the ability to commit to the time, energy and resources, you might not want to commit either.
4. Get Ready, Get Set
If you do decide to get started, you’ll want to define the parameters of the mentorship. What do you and your mentee want the outcome(s)to be? How can you clearly know when you’ve accomplished your goals? What does the end-state look like—and how will you get there?
Because one thing’s for certain: If you and your mentee don’t have a well-thought-out plan, you might end up wandering around in a fog, trying to see if you can bump into a solution. That’s not the path to success. But once you know what you’re looking for, you’re much more likely to get there.
The only “luck” that’s involved here is the ‘luck’ defined by the Roman philosopher, Seneca (who lived from 5 BC to 65 AD). “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”
5. Do the Work”Backstage”
As a mentor, your role is to work with the mentee “backstage” when no one else is around to hear your strategy sessions, visions, goals and, yes, tough love. Backstage is where you’ll plan your moves four or five iterations out.
This behind-the-scenes preparation will help your mentee get physically and mentally prepared and ready to run the gauntlet before he takes his first step. But when he is ready to be “on,” you’ll be off in the wings.
Then after he executes, you’ll be there to sit down and do a post-mortem, dissecting the “play” step-by-step. You’ll ask things like: “How did it go? What were the surprises? What did you learn from that?”
A successful mentorship works when you’re both consciously dissecting and learning before proceeding to the next opportunity and the next and the next. Here’s an example of how a situation might play out behind-the-scenes:
“Okay, we’ve got this situation ahead of us here so let’s take a look at it. What do you see? Here’s what I see. What do you think the options are? Here’s what I think the options are. If we make this move on the ‘chessboard’, what do you think the intended consequences are going to be? What do you think the unintended consequences are going to be? How are you going to respond?”
And so on…
5. Get Focused
The best way to really learn is to have absolutely 100-percent focused on the individual that you’re working with and let nothing else to distract you. No emails. No calls. No secondary conversations or running in and out.
This should be a very intense, singular focus. And you should expect that singular focus in return from your mentee.
6. Get Things in Writing—and Raise the Odds for Success
It’s amazing the power of having a mentee write their goals down. And it’s even better when they can review their status with an accountability partner—YOU. But writing things down takes sacrifice and discipline.
When it comes down to it, success is about making choices and sticking with them. When someone does what she says she’s going to do, the work usually gets done. Make sure the goals follow Peter Drucker’s rigorous RUMBA test: Realizable, Understandable, Measurable (in quantitative terms), Behavioral, and Agreed upon.
Mentorship … it takes big commitment to make it work. And, frankly, there are not a lot of people who make that commitment.
So you can tell your mentee that the really good news is that there are fewer and fewer people who are ready and willing to make the commitment to excellence. And why is this really good news? Because it lowers the number they have to compete with!
There are fewer and fewer people who really want to excel. So that raises their odds for outstanding success.
Mentorship is not for the faint of heart. It takes an all-in attitude on the part of the mentor and mentee. If you’re both ready—really ready—it can be one of the most rewarding experiences of your lives.