Why aren’t you mentoring?

Lory Fischler — №24 with James Tonn

Congratulations. Your career has finally taken off. At long last, you are doing what you like doing and are enjoying the challenges that come with higher responsibilities. You are managing other people. Now you are the one developing strategies, rather than the one executing someone else’s ideas. You aren’t taking direction; you are formulating it. Good for you.

So this is a good moment to take stock and reflect on the following questions:

You are now in a position to apply your insights, knowledge and wisdom and take on a new role: the role of mentor.

Mentor! And your direct reports (a.k.a. the employees who report to you) don’t count.

Why it’s hard to mentor direct reports

So, ready, set, go!

1. Build trust

First and foremost, mentors take the time to build trust. Without it, mentees are unlikely to reveal vulnerabilities and career needs to a senior leader. They are more likely to tell you what you want to hear, rather than what they really think. To build trust, share your own career journey — your struggles and successes along the way. The more you humanize yourself, the more approachable you will be.

2. Share the “secret sauce”

Mentors have more experience along with seniority. You know the ropes, how to navigate the system and what it takes to be successful; you know what they don’t tell you in the employee manual. Share your insights along the way. Your wisdom about what is really important will help your mentee focus on the right stuff.

3. Help mentees set goals

Mentors help their mentees explore their career direction and areas of interest. They work collaboratively to set the goals that will get them there. Goals should be a stretch, but achievable within the timeframe of your commitment. Goals need to be in the best interest of the mentee, but also align with the needs of your organization. Your time and attention is an investment that should pay off for everyone.

4. Get them in the driver’s seat

Mentoring isn’t handholding, onboarding, teaching or lecturing. Mentors answer questions, but they also ask tough questions to help their mentees think for themselves. Mentees need to take responsibility for their own learning. They will get out of the experience what they put into it. If your mentee isn’t ready to work on their own development, you aren’t going to see much growth and progress. You shouldn’t be doing all the heavy lifting — most of it should be on your mentee’s shoulders.

5. Push them out of their comfort zone

Trust is essential, so that your mentee will feel comfortable enough to allow themselves to be uncomfortable. Get your mentee to identify challenging goals that will stretch them, and push them out of their comfort zone. Don’t let your mentee settle on low-hanging fruit — goals that can be easily accomplished without much effort. Only by stretching and pushing themselves will they build new competencies and confidence.

6. Provide support and encouragement

Early on, mentees need encouragement and positive feedback. Mentors need to provide support especially when the work is challenging and the mentee hits snags and barriers. Your primary job is to help your mentee see a vision of themselves as someone who has more capability than they think they have. Your belief in them is what helps them get there. You don’t have to fix their problems or give them answers. Instead, engage them in conversation so they can discover their own answers.

7. Get your mentee to reflect on their learning

The most powerful thing you can do is help your mentee become more reflective. Get them to think about what they are learning. How are they incorporating their new insights into action and new behaviors? What are they doing differently as a result?

As you meet together over the course of a defined time, get the mentee to reflect on their progress, learning and insights.

There’s a payoff for you

Mentors tell us they feel real satisfaction from watching a junior person develop and be successful. They get an expanded perspective from someone in a different level of their organization or get a generational perspective from a younger employee. Who doesn’t feel good about sharing wisdom and experience with someone who really values hearing what you have to say? And mentors get to enhance their own skills in mentoring, relationship building and leadership. A big payoff, all in all.

Are you ready to reach out?

There are so many young people who are looking for help from someone like you. They don’t know how to ask for it – so you might want to initiate the conversation.

Look for people beyond your direct chain of command — those with high potential — who could benefit from your help and guidance. Reach out to them and see if they are ready to work on their own development. If they are ready to invest, you should be too.

So who are you currently informally mentoring? Could you step that up?

Who could you start mentoring?

And who could be mentoring you?

Photo: Flickr / theirhistory CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Lory fischler

Lory Fischler

Lory Fischler is a senior associate with Leadership Development Services, a consulting firm that specializes in leadership and mentoring, and is also the Associate Director of its Center for Mentoring Excellence. She is a dynamic, insightful and seasoned professional with over 25 years’ experience in consulting, training and coaching clients from a diverse array of organizations, including Fortune 500, health care, manufacturing, government and nonprofit sectors. Lory is the co-author of The Mentee’s Guide: Making Mentoring Work for You and Starting Strong: A Mentoring Fable, due to be released in October of 2014.

Leadership Development Services Website Visit the Center of Mentoring Excellence