Mentorship - Why and How
Concern: “What if we develop them and they leave?”
Counterpoint: “What if we DON’T and they stay?
Mentoring is one of the most important responsibilities of a leader. It is not something we do only when we have some spare time. It is not something that happens on accident. It is deliberate, purposeful, and perhaps the best investment of our time.
When we mentor someone we are communicating to them that they are important, that they are not defined by what they do but by who they are. Humans are “political animals” in the sense that we derive a sense of self from our place in a social structure. When we feel bonded to others, a chemical compound called oxytocin roams throughout our nervous and endocrine systems. This peptide hormone and neuropeptide is produced in our hypothalamus and released by our pituitary gland, secreted into our bloodstream to promote feelings of trust and inclusion (among many other prosocial benefits). It can’t be faked.
When we altruistically mentor someone we are forming a relational bond, vice a simple transactional exchange. This relational connection is the most primal and most natural of those between us, transcending boss-employee, influencer-follower, “poster-liker” associations. So how do we mentor?
We meet them where they’re at and ask them where they want to go.
First, use some structure to catalog their skills, experiences, and credentials to date. Do this by capturing their education, training, job roles (not merely titles), and what they liked and didn’t like about those experiences.
Next, jump forward in time and ask them where they want to be on their last day at work. What is their dream destination? If you feel they are truly shooting too high or too low, gently nudge them to discuss their expectations. Regardless, ask them why they want that ultimate gig. You’re not dismissing it; rather, you’re genuinely inquiring as to why it appeals to them, and why they’d be eager to take on that role. This gives great insights into what motivates them.
Now, with their past on paper and their future aspirations at hand, you can help them think through some immediate, short-term, and intermediate opportunities, challenges, and experiences they should pursue to augment what they already possess with what they would need to not simply land that job, but succeed in it. Often, there may be multiple paths to get there, so help them understand the width of that journey. Put another way, the career ladder is typically more like a jungle gym, with variable pathways towards the top.
Through this “past, present, and future” exercise, you each now have a common perspective on the journey. You facilitate it, they undertake it. You’re both in it. Bonded.