We’ve all had mentors who, one way or another, have encouraged us to live up to our potentials. Perhaps they recognized a natural talent in us that they wanted to help elevate. Perhaps they wanted to see us get ahead. We may have lost touch with our mentors, but we can certainly show our appreciation by passing it on and helping others the way they helped us.
As the principals of a successful start-up that became a well-known national and international brand, we had the opportunity to mentor many wonderful people who worked with us. We also learned by the experience. We learned how to be better mentors.
Here are what we consider to be the 9 essential ingredients of successful mentoring:
1. Sincerity. You have to really want to help make a difference in someone’s career. It can be trying at times. To stick in there long term requires a sincere level of concern.
2. Qualification. The candidate you are mentoring has to be both receptive and willing to improve. They prove this by demonstrating steady improvement over time. They have to realize and appreciate that you have their best interests at heart.
3. Investment. You have to be willing to be patient and make a long-term investment in that person. Everyone says they are fast learners, but how many examples do they need to understand the concept and apply it to new situations? The time and attention required by you will differ with each person.
4. Permission. Your apprentice naturally looks to you as an authority figure. As such, you are in a unique position to grant them permission to experiment, discover, and yes, even make mistakes. We’ve found permission to be the most important ingredient in progress.
5. Encouragement. Look for them to “get it,” master a new skill or demonstrate a more sophisticated level of judgment, and when they do, congratulate them! Tell them you knew they could do it. And when they fail, ask them what they learned and how they are going to apply it next time.
6. Communication. When they ask a question, listen for the underlying question. They may have a serious conceptual misunderstanding. Take the time to explain the details behind the concept, even though they may not have asked about that in particular.
7. Seasoning. Some aspects of what you have to teach them they may already know, or learn quickly, but some aspects can take much longer for them to understand and apply. You have to be patient and hang in there. They may not get some of what you are trying to impart until after you have left, but maybe you laid the foundation for a later epiphany.
8. Examples. We’ve found that folks respond better to real life examples from which they can draw their own conclusions than they do from a more prescriptive, text book approach. Rather than repeating the lesson, give them more examples. One will finally resonate.
9. Validation. As a mentor and authority figure, your acknowledgement, approval and appreciation are probably the most powerful tools you have. Folks want to know that they did it right and that someone they respect confirmed their success. They will then repeat that success with confidence.
People ask us what we are the most proud of. We always point to the success of the people we’ve mentored. Nothing is quite as rewarding as seeing another person avoid the pain you’ve endured and capitalize on the experience you’ve imparted when you “pass it on!”