Often, the very best person to mentor an employee to succeed in their current role is their manager. If you have a “high-potential” employee on your team and you’ve thought that they could benefit from being mentored by you, here are a few things to ask yourself before you begin.
Does this individual have a desire to grow and develop? No matter how talented we may think an employee is or how much we would like to see them become the superstar we know they can become if they have not shown a desire to grow or advance, they may not be ready to be mentored. If, however, they regularly take initiative to learn on their own, if they have expressed a desire to take on more challenges and responsibilities, and if they have demonstrated a growth mindset, they very well may be a good mentee.
Do I have the time and the bandwidth to be a mentor? Being a manager is a very demanding and time-consuming job. It also takes emotional energy. If an employee asks you to mentor them or you want to offer to be their mentor, make sure you can follow through. Being a mentor is more than simply setting a good example or being a resource when an individual has a question. Being a mentor requires you to set aside time, regularly, to meet with your mentee and this is above and beyond any regular one-on-one meetings you have with your team members. Being a mentor means that you will be actively seeking opportunities for them to learn and grow instead of waiting for opportunities to magically appear. Being a mentor means that you are willing to spend time formally working with them and not simply ad hoc. If your calendar is already crammed full and you see no way to free up time and energy without other areas suffering, perhaps taking on a formal mentor role isn’t a great idea. Because if you over promise and under deliver you will do harm to your mentee, to your professional reputation, and to your ability to lead your team successfully.
How comfortable am I asking the tough questions and giving negative feedback? Great mentors know that while the relationship between mentor and mentee is for the most part a positive one, there will be times when things may get a bit uncomfortable or tense. Do you have the ability to ask tough questions in a tactful and supportive way? Are you comfortable providing negative feedback in a way that, while direct and on point, doesn’t defeat or deflate your mentee? Some leaders struggle with these kinds of difficult or emotionally charged conversations. Being an effective mentor requires not only the willingness to have difficult conversations, it requires the skill and confidence to have them in a fashion that helps the mentee learn and grow. The good news is that if you are struggling in this area, it is a skill that can be developed.
Am I committed to my own professional development? Nothing is more confusing than a leader who gives good advice but sets a bad example. Are you learning and growing yourself? Have you actively sought out a mentor in the past or present? Are you consistently setting aside time to learn new things? If you need to learn how to have difficult conversations or give negative feedback, are you actively doing so? Are you attending workshops or webinars? Are you reading? Are you listening to podcasts? Are you staying up to date in your field and are you developing your soft skills? It is imperative that as a mentor you are learning and growing yourself.
Are you willing to let people fail (forward)? Often mentors think it is their job to help people by telling them “exactly how to do things.” This is a form of micromanaging. The best mentors have the mindset that it is their job to help mentees discover how to do things on their own, using their strengths and talents. Bottom line – great mentors don’t tell mentees what to do. Rather, they ask good questions to help the mentee learn on their own. And this, inevitably, means there will be times when your mentee will make mistakes or fail. The best mentors allow their mentees to fail and help them to learn from the experience. Obviously, there are times when the stakes are very high and the price of failure is not acceptable, but there is also a time to allow people to learn from their own mistakes. While a good mentor can caution and warn, ultimately, a good mentor understands that they must empower their mentee to make their own decisions, even if they sometimes result in a lesson hard learned. This can be difficult because many mentors fervently want their mentees to succeed. And, it is hard to watch people learn the hard way. Hard… and necessary on occasion.
With a motivated mentee, the time and bandwidth to devote to the process, the skills necessary, and the right mindset choosing to be a manager who is also a mentor can be very rewarding for you, your mentee, and your organization.