Great mentors have never been more critical than in today’s complex and fast-paced careers. We are continually faced with steep learning curves as we navigate new jobs, new technology, and new global challenges.
In the past, “true” mentors provided holistic support to their protégés—including career support, emotional support, and role modeling. Mentors served as sponsors and coaches, protected their protégés politically, and helped them get promoted. All of this is important, but it’s too much for one person to do in our current demanding workplace.
How, then, can you be a great mentor?
1. Encourage a network of mentors. Reframe the way you think about mentoring and help your mentee (or protégé) do the same. You can and should play an essential part of your mentee’s development, but to succeed they will need a network of mentors, sponsors, coaches, and peers. Explain that building developmental relationships is essential for good performance, for well-being, and for getting ahead in the workplace.
2. Empower your mentee to lead the conversation. The best skill you can teach is how to be a good mentee, and good mentees take the lead in the relationship. Taking the initiative empowers them to develop leadership skills and take ownership of their career, essential for long-term success. Your role as a mentor is to ask good questions and help them think through career issues. Discuss goals for the relationship at the outset and be explicit about why you are pushing them to take the lead.
3. Inspire your mentee to take on challenging assignments. Succeeding on challenging tasks is how we build self-confidence and self-efficacy, critical for performing in executive roles. Get to know your mentee well enough to help them identify experiences for growth. Such high profile projects also serve to build their network, improve their reputation, and prepare them for more responsibility. Help them reflect on these experiences to fully capture the learning and incorporate new skills into their future roles.
To be a great mentor today requires creativity and the flexibility to adapt your approach to your mentee’s needs. In the process, great mentors learn a lot too.