For me, making the leap from corporate world to the world of author, speaker, educator, and entrepreneur required one last push. As ready as I thought I was, I still had last minute doubts chasing me.
Enter my mentor, who helped me get out of my own way.
And immersed in this life now for close to 4 years – 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. Unless you’re Beyoncé – then you can only go down from there.
Bill Gates, who revolutionized the personal computer and is one of the richest men in the world, 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 would go on to change 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.”
Mentors ask the right questions and that can lead to breakthrough innovations. And even as one of the world’s richest men, Bill Gates still relies on Buffett for financial and professional advice (and still calls me for relationship advice).
The rest of us who are not the world’s richest men also need mentors. Mentors can also 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, 33% greater self-confidence, and are 30% more likely to take risks.
Are we, as leaders, providing mentors and visions that will inspire our employees to achieve great things, based not only on their gifting gifts but also an understanding of who they are?
Ready to find a mentor, or help your employee find one? Here are the characteristics every employee needs in his/her mentors.
A mentor: Commands respect.
A mentor should provide advice–preferably 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.
Aims to encourage, but expects accountability.
A mentor can encourage his/her mentee with positive reinforcement, but his/her actions can say even more. Demonstrating how she has overcome obstacles, or how he/she balances his/her 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 mentee will expect her/his 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 that he uses discretion and does not share information given in confidence.
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.
Self-awareness and empathy go hand-in-hand. A mentor’s understanding of how she/he got where she/he is, and how her/his own experience is different than her/his mentee’s is essential for giving good advice to her the mentee.
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 go do their homework to help the mentee). Finally, the best mentors have a track record of being introspective and articulate so as to share their advice effectively, versus as a stream of consciousness.
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 love his/her job can help ignite that love in others.
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 that help the mentee form their own point of view, rather than consistently handing the mentee their point of view.