Last week we discussed being a dynamic mentor that inspires change in others. But how does one get there?
Here are some thoughts on becoming a mentor to others:
Character Over Skills
First, the best mentoring plans focus primarily on character development and then on skills. As Jim Collins reports, “The good-to-great companies placed greater weight on character attributes than on specific educational background, practical skills, specialized knowledge, or work experience.”
Set Clear Expectations
Second, I see many mentoring attempts fail because the participants do not sit down together to discuss and set boundaries and expectations. The process flows much better if the participants take time to understand each other’s goals, needs, and approaches than if they take a laid-back, let’s-get-together approach.
Any mentoring relationship should start with a firm foundation of mutual understanding about goals and expectations. A mentoring plan should be constructed by both individuals, even if it calls for spontaneity in the approach. Nothing is more powerful than motive and heart. Both of the people involved need to fully understand what is driving each of them to want this deeper experience of growth and commitment.
I once worked with an organization where a senior executive was trying to help a new manager. Incredible as it may seem, the manager was frequently not showing up on time—or at all—for scheduled mentoring appointments. We doubt that he fully understood the senior executive’s passion for his personal growth. When they later met to discuss the problem, the senior executive explained why he was willing to get up very early in the morning to help mentor the manager. Once the manager had grasped these basic facts, he started taking the sessions more seriously. Good idea!
Although I strongly endorse the notion of mentoring spontaneously during “teachable moments”, ideally I suggest using a combination of scheduled and unscheduled opportunities to learn and grow together.
Catch the Vision
What image comes to mind when you think of the term mentor? You might picture two people sitting at a table in a restaurant, the older person, his or her head topped with waves of shimmering, gray hair, waxing eloquent while the younger listener is furiously scribbling notes on a legal pad. Although this scene may warm our hearts, it seems just a bit out of sync with the real world.
I would like to offer an alternative image of mentoring: Picture two people sitting across from each other in an office. Obviously, an important project is under discussion. The interaction is animated, intense, and often humorous. These people obviously know each other well. Speech is direct and honest. Mutual respect is readily apparent. Some coaching is occurring, but the protégé is not restrained in sharing some insights on the performance of the mentor as well. This relationship is built on trust.
With this picture in mind, I like to define mentoring as a long-term, mutually supportive and enhancing relationship rather than as a relationship in which a highly advanced human being tutors another who stands a step or two below him or her on the developmental ladder.