Becoming a Mentor Is Not for the Faint of Heart
Congratulations on being asked to become a mentor -- it means you’ve earned recognition for your hard work and insightful contributions as a leader. You’ll learn more than a few things along the way, and the rewards include building strong connections to future leaders, reenergizing your career and leaving a legacy. But before your ego says yes to become a mentor recognize it’s a commitment that you shouldn’t take lightly. The consequences of mentorship gone wrong can be equally devastating to your career.
Consider these consequences.
- You risk your professional reputation if the protégé fails.
- The cost of giving up time that might go into your business.
- In rare situations, there is a danger of advising a protégé to unwitting engage in illegal actions.
With that in mind, ask yourself these five questions before committing to becoming a mentor.
1. Is this individual similar to you?
Trust and rapport is critical to a successful mentor/protégé relationship. Does this person share your work ethic, drive, values and passion? You also need to take a hard look at your protégé-to-be and answer this question: “Will he or she respect your time, take your lessons to heart, and put forth the effort to grow?”
Understand what this person wants out of the relationship as well as how much you can give. Help the protégé define his or her goals -- smart goals -- and then commit them to writing them down for frequent reference. The relationship doesn’t need a formal “mentorship” label, but you do want to measure the protégé’s growth somehow.
Then you need to evaluate yourself.
2. Are you the right mentor for him or her?
This is the toughest question of all. We aren’t objective when it comes to ourselves. Nobody sees himself or herself as others do, so get help from a trusted advisor or a past mentor of your own to help you answer this question. Make sure you’re bringing the skills appropriate for the protégé’s career path. For example, being a killer salesperson in a lumber company does not make you a thought leader on distribution, marketing, or human resources in the tech industry. Think of three specific things you can teach this person. Are those skills relevant to his or her career path or business growth? Can you pinpoint what made you successful above other hard-working people? It's crucial to ask these questions of yourself if you want to be an effective mentor. Having trouble with this exercise doesn’t mean you couldn’t become successful again under different circumstances, but it does mean you need to develop the ability to help someone else replicate that success. That’s what the protégé stands to gain at the relationship’s core. Becoming a mentor calls for consistent reflection. Make sure you isolate the important factors within your experiences and demonstrate how to apply them in different circumstances.
3. Do you really have the time and effort to give?
Making someone else’s success one of your top priorities defines a good mentor. Don’t just give a few tips and tricks in a “Friday roundup” email, or a 10-minute call during your commute. Dedicated mentors help their protégés grapple with the specifics of every issue to tease out the life-long lesson. If you find yourself constantly out of time or energy, then it may not be a productive arrangement. Those are the most valuable assets of every leader and entrepreneur, so you won’t serve your protégé well by bringing anything less than your full energy with a clear schedule.
4. What will you gain from the experience?
This is not a selfish question -- mentorship is a two-way street, just like leadership and education. Can this person teach you anything new? At the very least, can you practice new skills for yourself? This should extend beyond discovering new trends, such as the Slack messenger phenomenon. Consider these benefits as they apply to you:
- Personal development such as practicing your listening skills
- New industry and technology knowledge
- Understanding younger demographics’ mindsets and values
Also take a moment to work out why you want to pursue this, because your incentive and motivation to take on this responsibility will directly affect your success as a mentor.
5. Are you all in?
You owe it to your perspective protégé and yourself to gauge your compatibility, dedication and potential reward before committing to becoming a mentor -- and do so before staking your valuable time and reputation. Once you commit, the two of you will only succeed by jumping into the relationship with both feet; there are no half-measures when it comes to effective mentoring. Take it seriously and the benefits will invaluable for both of you.