As a business leader, you can play four active mentoring roles: formal mentor, informal mentor, mentee, and mentoring supporter.
You probably know by now that you shouldn’t be a formal mentor to anyone who reports to you. Employees need a confidential relationship in which they can talk about you, their personal and career goals, and their challenges — without worrying about how you’ll react to the information. You can and should, however, be a formal or semiformal mentor to individuals outside your organization. Consider mentoring someone in your alumni or professional association, a young person in your community, a family member or neighbor, or maybe even a potential competitor.
You can be an informal mentor to people in your business. Make it clear you’re not their formal mentor, but you want to encourage them to pursue big goals, offer them ideas from time to time — and maybe even link them up with other potential resources.
Be a mentee. Find two or three mentors of your own, even if you’re well established in your business and your career. You’ll continue to learn and be inspired, and you’ll serve as a model for people in your organization and elsewhere who aren’t sure about the value of mentoring.
Finally, you can be a mentoring supporter. Talk regularly about mentoring and its impact on your life. Point out how you’re serving as a mentee and mentor. Urge your employees to find formal and informal mentors both within your business and outside of it, and let them use some office time to attend meetings. If they’re in a mentoring program, recognize them for participating, and attend their celebration ceremonies. Make mentoring an expectation for your emerging leaders.
When we look back on our careers, we’ll probably forget many of the details of what we did. But we’ll always remember the people who helped us along the way, and we’ll feel good about what we did to help other people’s lives be better than they ever expected.
The Mentoring Group
Grass Valley, Calif.