Part of becoming a great business leader is identifying a mentor who can serve as a teacher, a role model, and an empathetic ear. Over time, people who were once mentees feel the need to return the favor and take future business leaders under their wings. However, serving as a mentor isn’t as simple as it may seem. Becoming a good mentor—one who can truly change the lives of his or her mentees—requires self-reflection, dedication, and even sacrifice.
The following are some ways to become a better mentor and prepare new generations to take the reins:
Have a clear purpose.
Mentors are only truly effective when they have a clear idea of what they want to achieve. Of course, this goal can change and grow as the relationship grows, but without a clear aim, mentoring meetings have a tendency to go nowhere. Ultimately, mentorship is about change and growth.
If the mentoring relationship seems to have become stagnant, perhaps it is time for both parties to redefine what they want to get out of it and refocus their efforts. When coming into a conversation, great mentors know exactly what they want to achieve and the steer it toward that goal. Purpose, however, is not only for mentors. Mentees will also have goals and aims that great mentors will take to heart rather than ignore.
Be involved with the process.
Mentorship is all about giving. The best mentors give their time, their advice, and their emotions. If mentors build a wall between themselves and their mentees, they will never have the truly deep impact that mentorship can provide. While it can be difficult at times, mentorship involves true emotional investment. Mentees who feel that their mentors are fully invested are motivated to achieve more and inspired to go further. Mentors need to celebrate victories, mourn losses, and show resiliency alongside their mentees. Emotional investment is the key to becoming an excellent role model and showing the human side of business.
Maintain environmental awareness.
Any good business leader keeps a cautious eye on the horizon, but this task becomes even more important for a mentor. Great mentors watch out for their mentees, which means making sure that no one spreads rumors and or takes shortcuts through the development process. In addition, mentors should look out for opportunities that could further their mentees’ careers and keep an eye on anyone who could rise as competition or take an adversarial stance.
Maintaining environmental awareness serves two distinct, but important, purposes. First, it ensures that the mentees feel like they have someone in their corner. Second, it teaches mentees how to develop their own foresight skills.
Treat mentorship as a two-way street.
Ideally, both mentors and mentees contribute to the relationship. When one party is putting in considerably more effort than the other, then neither side is developing and frustrations can mount fairly quickly. Mentors should approach the relationship with an open mind and realize that as much as they have to teach, they can also learn things from their mentee.
Typically, mentorship relationships develop cross-generationally. These two generations will benefit greatly from a dialogue. Ultimately, mentors and mentees alike should walk away from a mentorship relationship a stronger, more informed leader.
Avoid appearing like a hypocrite.
One of the most important things that a mentor does for a mentee is act as a role model. However, it is essential that mentors follow their own advice. The best leaders lead by example and understand that, no matter what they say, their actions make the strongest impression.
Living according to one’s own advice sounds simpler than it really is in today’s complicated business world, but leaders only become great when they demonstrate strong integrity. Hypocritical behavior can have disastrous effects on mentees and even cause them to question all of the advice a mentor has given up to that point. Talking with mentees about difficult decisions is a great way to show how one can successfully navigate through the many grey areas that exist in business.
Practice active empathy.
Great leaders understand the importance of empathy in business relationships, and mentorship is no different. Through empathy, mentors put themselves in the shoes of their mentees and think critically about the challenges they face in the current business environment. In the end, everything a mentor provides a mentee—all advice, lessons, and guidance—should be offered through the lens of empathy.
Without empathy, guidance may come across as impractical or even downright impossible, which only disheartens the mentee. Importantly, the key to practicing empathy lies in listening closely to what mentees have to say. No two people have the same experience in business, so mentors can only begin to imagine how their mentees feel by listening to their experiences.