Maximizing Mentorship

By Michael Reddington, CFI

Heavy lies the crown.  Success brings many rewards and many responsibilities.  One of the greatest responsibilities your success bestows upon you is passing everything you’ve learned on to others who are eager to develop their careers.  The very best leaders don’t see the next generation as a threat, withhold information and force their teams to rely on them. Great leaders see the next generation as an opportunity to carry the torch and they devote their time to mold their teams and provide them with the tools and insight to surpass their achievements.

Business cultures are being forced to evolve as technology expands exponentially, information becomes more accessible and workforces becoming potentially more transient.  Many business cultures are quickly shifting away from “need to know” relationships and information and shifting towards cultures of transparency, accountability and individual decision making. This evolution typically inspires people to learn and achieve more.

Mentorship provides a wonderful opportunity to develop people in your organization, industry or social circles.  Below are ten considerations to maximize your mentorship opportunities:

Focus on potential:  When considering who to mentor or what to discuss, executives may make the mistake of focusing on where an individual currently is in their career, what their past performance has indicated and what the next logical professional step is for the individual.  Each of these perspectives can limit the scope of how and who a mentor may engage.  When you take the time to mentor someone, focus on what they are potentially capable of in the future and work to help them believe in and realize that potential.

Demonstrate interest in the people:  We all gain so much more from our relationships when we feel people care about us personally.  Don’t limit your mentorship to strictly business conversations.  Sharing life lessons about relationships, finances, health and hard lessons learned can serve as significant development tools.

Dedicate the time:  Time is the most precious resource every human being has because we don’t get it back.  To truly impact someone’s life, we have to dedicate the time.  We need to dedicate the time to prepare for our meetings, execute our meetings, eliminate distractions during our meetings and (most importantly) follow up on our meetings.  The best way to convince someone we care about them is to spend time with them.  There is no doubt that when people perceive that they have tangible evidence that you care about them, they will push themselves much further than they may have otherwise.

Overshare information:  The days of squirrelling away secrets have passed us by.  Anyone can learn almost anything they want, as long as they have the time and patience to search the internet for it.  If your best people learn the skills they need to succeed somewhere else, you can expect them to take their talents somewhere else. The more “secrets to success” you share, the more people will see value in you and want to follow you.

Encourage mistakes:  Simply put, surviving mistakes is likely the strongest learning tool we all have available to us.  Encourage the people you mentor to go out and make productive mistakes.  Embarrassment is the number one fear that stops most people from trying things.  The more people get comfortable making mistakes, and openly discussing them with you, the more they will be able to push beyond their own preconceived limits and develop personally and professionally.

Build confidence in others:  Confidence comes from being prepared, experience and surviving mistakes.  Help those who trust you prepare for their important projects and interactions.  If they don’t have “experience” yet, avoid telling them what to do.  Share stories of similar experiences you have had and allow those stories to lead them down the correct path of action.  Turn mistakes into learning opportunities.  As soon as people realize their mistakes weren’t fatal they can regain their composure and spin their mistakes into experience – which will increase their confidence.

Separate the process from the results:  When you are coaching others it is easy to focus on the results – but the results can be misleading.   It is quite possible to do everything right and end up with a pour result.  It’s also quite possible to do everything wrong, and luckily end up with a positive outcome.   If you coach based on the results you may reverse good behaviors or encourage bad behaviors. By coaching the process, you can teach people how to problem solve, reinforce the correct behaviors and allow the results to take care of themselves.

Teach people to think for themselves:  Providing people with all the answers they need to know is not mentorship.  Mentorship involves asking questions and leading others down the path of self-discovery with the goal of teaching them to solve their own future problems.  Go beyond sharing success stories and challenge the people who look up to you with questions and problems they have to learn to solve.  Then when they bring you their solutions, coach them on how they arrived at the solution, not the solution itself.

Challenge people:  There is no doubt that providing feedback and advice are important components of mentoring.  However, simply providing reassurance is not mentoring.   High potential people love, and need to be challenged.  They need to be challenged to think differently, act differently, and understand their surroundings differently.  If you pat people on the back you provide them with temporary comfort.  If you challenge them to grow in unexpected ways, you are providing them with a lifetime worth of potential value.

Remember you’re different:  How you activated your knowledge and survived your experiences may be different than how others may activate their knowledge and survive their experiences.  Part of being a great mentor or role model is providing a framework that allows people to discover their best self.  Mentoring does not translate to creating clones of yourself.  Take the time to get to know the people you support, understand their motivations and fears, and provide them with guidance, while avoiding creating a mirror image of yourself.

The true test of a leader is not what he or she accomplished personally.  The true test of a leader is how many people they inspired and developed to exceed any previous expectations.  When executed properly mentorship is a gift to all involved and should create opportunities for mentors to learn and grow as well.  Thank you for donating your time and experience to the next generation.