For me, making the leap from the corporate world to the world of full-time speaker, author, educator and entrepreneur required one last push. As ready as I thought I was, I still had those nagging last-minute doubts. Enter my mentor, who helped me find clarity and get out of my own way. Immersed in this new life now for more than 6 months – I’ve never been happier.
Nearly every successful business leader, inventor, military leader, startup founder has a mentor – present tense. No matter how successful you are, you can still benefit from the guidance of a mentor.
Bill Gates, who revolutionized the personal computer and is still the richest man in the world, recently celebrated 25 years of friendship with his friend and mentor, Warren Buffett. In a discussion moderated by Charlie Rose, he revealed a question Buffett asked him that changed how each of us uses the computer to this day. Gates says:
“I was so amazed that Warren comes to investing with this broad model of the world. So one of the first questions he asked me was, hey, Microsoft is a small company, IBM is this huge company, why can you do better? Why can’t they beat you at the software game that you’re playing? And I always—every day I was thinking about, okay, what advantage do we have, what do we do? But nobody ever asked me that question.”
The Advantage of a Mentor
Mentors ask the right questions that can lead to breakthrough innovations. And even as the world’s richest man, Bill Gates still relies on Buffett for financial and professional advice.
The rest of us who are not the world’s richest men also need mentors. Mentors can improve retention, productivity, promotion and development. According to this infographic from degreesearch.org, mentors can also be especially important to women, and women of color, in the workplace.
If you’re still not sold, research indicates that those who have mentors enjoy 40% higher career advancement.
Are we, as leaders, providing mentors and visions that will inspire our employees to achieve greatness, based not only on their skills but also an understanding of who they are?
The Characteristics Every Employee Needs in Their Mentor
The following qualities are important to look for if you’re ready to find a mentor, or help your employee find one:
- A Mentor Commands Respect | A mentor should provide good advice. If you’re identifying a mentor for an employee, be sure he is well respected and will produce more of the type of employees that will not only benefit your organization but also society as a whole.
- A Mentor Aims to Encourage, but Expects Accountability | A mentor can encourage mentees with positive reinforcement, but their actions can say even more. Demonstrating how she has overcome obstacles, or how he balances a career and family are encouraging examples of what an employee can accomplish. At the same time, the best mentors will kindly demand a plan and accountability from their mentee.
- A Mentor Uses Discretion | A mentee will expect a mentor to give counsel on their role at work, or how to handle a situation deep in office politics. To provide advice, he must show he uses discretion and does not share information given in confidence.
- A Mentor Gives Generously | A rock-star employee could be a great mentor, but she needs to give up time away from her daily job tasks to do it. The right mentor will be generous with her time, advice, and access to “behind-the-scenes” of how she does her own job.
- A Mentor Is Self-aware | Self-awareness and empathy go hand-in-hand. A mentor’s understanding of howhe got where he is, and how his own experience is different than the mentee’s, is essential for giving good advice.
- A Mentor Provides Authentic, Articulate Advice | A mentor’s encouragement is worthless if it lacks authenticity. A mentor should be willing to provide advice even when it’s not easy. His self-awareness will enable him to give advice that is real and with precision – to help his mentee grow.And they’ll know when they have to wait before giving advice (to do their homework to help the mentee). Finally, the best mentors have a track record of being introspective and articulate. They share their advice effectively, versus as a stream of consciousness.
- A Mentor Loves Her Job | To inspire employees, mentors must love their job. Whether the mentor is in the same industry, same office, or simply a great leader within your organization, only a person who loves their job can help ignite that love in others.
- A Mentor Asks More Than They Answer | The best mentors listen more than they lecture. They know when the mentee simply wants to vent, when they need to gently push or strongly prod. But they do so more often than not by asking smart questions. They help mentees form their own point of view. Rather than consistently handing the mentee their own point of view.
Don’t go it alone. Mentors are a powerful addition to your career-growth portfolio. It just takes a bit of intentionality in using the eight criteria above to find the right one. And if you’re a mentor reading this article, put these criteria to work for you and your mentee as well!
For more workplace inspiration from Scott Mautz, read his newly released book, Find the Fire: Reignite Your Inspiration & Make Work Exciting Again (October 2017), the anticipated follow up to Make It Matter: How Managers Can Motivate by Creating Meaning.