It never ceases to amaze me the power of mentorship. Starting as an intern years ago at WF and now working as a mentor at eBoost Consulting, I’ve been able to learn from both sides. Please don’t take this post the wrong way: I don’t claim to know everything, but I’ve seen things that work and things that don’t. In fact, the impetus for this post is from recent discussions I’ve had with our latest intern class – they’ve inspired me so much that I was motivated to jot these thoughts down. Throughout this post, I’ll share some opinions I’ve formulated over the years. It is my hope that the tips presented here will steer you down the right path as a mentor to the next generation of leaders.
The most critical skill you can teach is critical thinking.
Theory only works in theory. Do not push each intern you work with to think the way you do. Each mentor has a unique style and much of this style stems from life experience. In business, you tend to run into extroverts who succeed no matter what. Their ideas on mentorship may not be effective for the person who is introverted and has struggled with people skills his entire life. One-size-fits-all is a myth in leadership development.
I’ve worked with people who are the same age, same gender, and had the same number of years of real business experience yet had them both on completely different development plans. Despite being in the same business, each person was unique in terms of personality, past experiences, strengths, weaknesses, skills and values.
Furthermore, as an intern, you must carve your own path. I grew up heavily influenced by Bruce Lee, who said repeatedly, “absorb what’s useful, discard the rest”. Keep in mind that the process of learning as an intern leads you down the road of becoming a mentor yourself. Develop your own style.
Everyone wants to be a master, but no one wants to be a student.
Successful mentors are perpetual students. Don’t be tied down to a certain thought process. To illustrate this point, if I ask ten people, “what is strategic planning?”, I’d likely get ten different responses. Assuming intelligent responses, all ten would be correct. You see, there are a multitude of definitions for terms which can be “correct”. The majority of interns hear one definition and then accept that as gospel for the duration of their business life. This is a shame. Just as strategic planning can mean the process of scenario planning, balanced scorecard, game theory, et al, there is a fluidity to business concepts that should be recognized. Continual learning will give you a holistic definition which will make you a better mentor.
Don’t fake it till you make it.
If you preach mentorship, then you should know mentorship. I’m writing this with some biting sarcasm but the message is clear: mentorship is a hot topic that people are capitalizing on. As a fan of the topic myself, I welcome the interest. But there are a number of clueless people who talk a big game, but never played the game themselves. I consider this an affront to the number of exceptional business mentors I had who were actually legit.
You have to put in “care equity”.
It takes a substantial amount of energy to care. Most tend to forget this point and simply just want the mentor designation without putting in the “care equity”. My mentors cared more about me than I did myself. They saw potential in me when I didn’t. They saw my weaknesses and stretched me to build on them, even when I expressed displeasure in doing so. Who does that? A true mentor does.
Push the right buttons.
Demonstrating business know-how is important. Managing the motivations of the person you’re developing is even more important. When I begin working with someone, I start by getting to know their story. Where is she from? What drives her? What buttons do I need to push to light a fire under her? Take some time to find answers to these questions.
I’ve come across some highly intelligent people who do not fit the highly motivated category. Motivation is a tricky subject. One person may be motivated by a perpetual chip on his/her shoulder. Perhaps it’s a need to prove something to their peers. Another may love challenges. Whatever it is, you’ll never tap into their best if you don’t know what brings out their best.
Values before skills pay the bills.
Almost anyone can succeed if s/he has the right work values, believes in the journey, and works their butts off. Conversely, all the capabilities in the world won’t work if the work values aren’t aligned. Values outweighs every other factor.
Love the journey.
It’s a process – there is no beginning and end. The mentor and intern dynamic is never rigid – it’s fluid, it’s give-and-take, it’s flexible, it’s reciprocal.
“You make the call”.
This is the best thing my old boss ever said to me. It gave me such a feeling of nausea from both excitement and fear. What an amazing paradox. I hope my interns feel the same way when I say that to them.
These are my observations and my opinions only – I reserve the right to change as I learn to be a better leader myself. These tips are conceptual; by nature I tend to gravitate towards the Socratic method in teaching and learning. But hopefully, you can walk away with a few thoughts to ponder when developing your organization’s next business leader. It is a process and a terribly rewarding one both ways.
Have a good night, thanks for dropping by.