Traditional mentorship, like the internal coaching model lauded by previous generations, has become more myth than method. The modern world is faster, busier and ever-changing, and this has lead to big shifts in the business world. People switch jobs more often, work remotely, receive little training and guard their expertise like state secrets in the face of competition.
We’ve entered the age of the startup. Entrepreneurs rule the business landscape, while artisans, makers and developers redefine the next big thing. Careers are no longer based on a single expertise but have instead become hybrids of technical knowledge, management know-how and skill sets adaptable to evolving budgets and priorities. Because of this, mentorships must also become an amalgamation of teaching, consulting, sponsoring and coaching.
Here are the new rules:
It’s up to the individual. The company is not responsible for creating a professional development path for its employees. Gone are the days of waiting for a formal program to pair eager mentees with seasoned advisers. Budgets are partially to blame and so are changing workplace norms — few young people stick with companies long term, which can disincentivize employers to invest in their growth. Today, both mentors and mentees are learning that they must take the initiative or they will be left in the dust by those who do.
Create a specialized mentorship. The days of being all things to your mentee are gone. Instead, focus on specific areas in which your expertise and experience add value, and create a more tailored learning experience for both you and your mentee.
Think externally. Knowing how to grow employees within a company is invaluable, but it’s not just about growing career skills at work. To grow your community requires an outside perspective. Without a conflict of interest or fear of reprisal for thinking out loud, you can offer candid and valuable guidance.
Sponsorship and translation is key. With the amount of instantly accessible information out there, the know-how and best practices are readily available to anyone familiar with Google. The doing and connecting, however, are the new mentoring sweet spot. Willingness to share resources, contacts and invites is essential.
Why be a mentor?
As a mentor, you’re not only giving back to the community by ensuring young business leaders are prepared for the future, you’re also developing skills as a teacher, manager, consultant and strategist. Additionally, as a mentor, you will:
Learn about fresh ideas, trends and innovations from a new source.
Develop a passionate and devoted brand evangelist for your company — even if they don’t work there.
Create a new, trusted resource through which to connect your business network to new opportunities.
Build a legacy. Mentoring the next generation of business leaders allows you to leave your mark long after you’ve left the workforce.
Where to find your mentee:
How do you find the up-and-comers that will catapult your brand, improve your community and solidify your legacy? Hungry potential mentees are all around you.
On the job. The traditional route still has value. Find people in your company who show potential and/or aspiration to make big things happen. Their drive will feed yours.
Through community groups or at industry events. Pay close attention to those who raise their hands, participate whole-heartedly and contribute to the group. These are the self-starters who, with some guidance and insight, will move successfully to the next level.
Through volunteer service projects. Tremendous numbers of young professionals are giving back through time and service. Their involvement demonstrates an ability to commit to long-range goals and accomplish important milestones — crucial characteristics in a mentee. Plus, building your relationship around a cause both parties are passionate about establishes a strong bond from the start.
How to be a good mentor:
Be polite. Be proactive. Follow through.
Don’t promote yourself. Be genuine. You’re there to teach, not sell.
Set boundaries. If you are open to getting questions as needed, great! But more than likely, you’re a very busy person. Establish expectations and schedules early and stick to them.
Expect feedback with action. If your mentee takes action based on your advice, ask that they share the experience with you afterward. Even if it’s not positive, capture their feedback. This will help you understand how to best guide them and, more importantly, strengthen your relationship.
Show up. If you invite your mentee to an event, don’t flake. Be there to show them the ropes, make introductions and lead by example.
Recognize your commitment. Mentors, especially those who take on a sponsorship role, are quite literally staking their reputations on their mentees. Never forget that. Expect your mentee to be the amazing person you believe them to be — and check in often to keep them on the right path.
Expect them to pay it forward. When the time comes to mentor the next generation, establish an expectation that your mentee be ready and willing.
Though methods change with the times, there is still a valuable role for mentorship to play in the entrepreneurial economy. Mentorship today is about collaboration, connection, mutual learning and direction. For potential participants, the benefits and opportunities of these relationships are limitless. It simply requires a reset of the traditional model.
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