Many times you as the leader can see the promise in someone before they realize their own potential, and often before they are ready to invest in themselves through mentoring. And, let’s be honest, sometimes we face resistance to mentoring even when it is much needed.
When I began my career as an educator, I was blessed with a great mentor who wasn’t very secretive about it. It was a formal relationship, which was part of her job as an administrator, but she took the time to mentor me ‘beyond the list’ of teacher attributes required of her. She taught me how to be a team-player, how to lead a committee meeting, how to properly set a buffet, when to confront resistance, and other ‘non-teaching’ things that I would know as an emerging leader. At the time I was naïve to her agenda of all of the extra assignments and opportunities, but as I gained more leadership experience I got it…she had been ‘grooming’ me for promotion all along.
I’ve since had many mentors personally and professionally, and I’ve been a mentor to others as well. Through my experience, I’ve found four consistent characteristics that work in every situation, especially less formal mentoring relationships with gung-ho mentees, and yes, even those who are a little resistant to growth through change.
Often potential leaders know what they desire (need) to improve in their work and life, but they may keep it guarded to protect their position or reputation. They are much more likely to share their desires with you in a trusting and kind conversation than in an intimidating formal review, even if your intention is the same. For example, instead of asking during a review, you might say, “I’m really working on improving in this [specific area] in my job. Do you have an interesting goal you’re working toward?” over a casual lunch.
If someone that you would like to mentor has already come to mind as you are reading this, then you probably already have a list of things that you feel they do well and those they need to sharpen. Don’t try to tackle the whole list at once. Identify one work-related or one life-related goal to focus on with them either directly or indirectly. You can simply begin mentoring by providing encouragement in subtle, but intentional ways.
A great way to begin mentoring someone is to simply invite her to the opportunity. You can invite her to join you for a related task in which you desire to mentor her, maybe co-chair a meeting, prepare for a conference, or sit in on a seminar. For example, I once had a colleague that just couldn’t properly set-up a conference room for anything. So I started asking her if I could ‘assist’ her since I had some ‘spare time’ (which I had intentionally created in my schedule). By working alongside of her, I was able to model a pattern for her and share personal stories about how I learned about ambiance, settings and such. She was very receptive and was able to overcome her fear of imperfection and frustration after only a couple of shared experiences.
Mentoring always requires an investment from the mentor. You must be intentional when you inquire, identify, and invite development opportunities with someone. You should plan to invest time, wisdom, expertise, and especially relationship with the person whom you hope to mentor. Determine in advance the level of mentoring in which you are willing to invest.
As a compassionate leader sometimes you have to be covert in building emerging influencers when they feel that they aren’t ready. You can (and should) begin the mentoring process with unsuspecting protégés, even before they think they’re ready…and expect the same from the unidentified mentors around you.