5 Tips for Becoming a Great Mentor

When I was in the enviable albeit anxiety-provoking position of being offered two top communications jobs at the same time, I was in a total quandary.  While it was exciting being wooed to head media relations for news, entertainment and sports divisions at CBS and to be the senior PR officer for Universal’s TV group, it was also unsettling.

All I could think about, when I could untwist my stomach long enough, was that I didn’t want to blow it.  I needed to determine which job was a better fit; which chairman was a better boss; and which schedule would allow me to stay connected to my sons.  A high-class problem, I knew, but a problem nonetheless.

I turned to my mentor Jeanne, an entertainment attorney, to guide me as gracefully as possible through the process.  She knew the inner workings of both companies and the personalities of both bosses.  And, as a senior partner in a powerhouse LA law firm, she knew what it was like to be a working mom with a demanding career.  With Jeanne’s help, I ended up accepting the position at Universal and recommending a former staff member for the CBS job.

Now that I’ve mentored professionals of all ages and all stages of their careers, I know how sweet it is to be part of someone else’s success.  In fact, it’s arguable as to who benefits the most in the mentor-protégé relationship.  But, then again, who’s arguing?

As mentors, we’re constantly learning new things and being challenged to look at perspectives other than our own.  Stagnation doesn’t stand a chance.  We also get a fresh glimpse at ourselves, recognizing how far we’ve climbed and how much wisdom we’ve accumulated.  The once-dismissive “been there, done that” no longer means time to move on, but instead that we’ve got plenty to share.

Whether we mentor in acknowledgment of the wonderful men and women who’ve guided us or because we were unable to find mentors and don’t want others to suffer the same fate, mentoring has multiple benefits - for the mentor, the protégé and the companies who gain from their achievements.

To ensure that you maximize your mentoring experience, here are some tips for managing that special relationship:

  1. Choose your protégé carefully.  Just as you would choose a mentor for the qualities they possess, make sure your mentorship is based on what you truly want to share.  If you love research, mentoring someone who needs that skill can be a delight.  Conversely, if you despise office politics you may not want a mentee who needs help navigating the corporate ladder.
  2. Establish “bright line” boundaries.  Once you’ve agreed to mentor someone, create clear ground rules.  When and where will the mentoring take place?  How long will sessions last?  Is the relationship open-ended or is there an end date? What is the goal of the relationship?  Don’t take on extra work or commit to time you can ill afford.  It’s great to be giving, but it’s better to be realistic.
  3. Guide your protégé to create a powerful vision.  Encourage your mentee to create a vision for success that you can support with strategic advice and accountability along the way.  Feel free to use the vision tool on my website to get you started.
  4. Connect your mentee with others.  One of the most valuable things you can do as a mentor is open doors to people and organizations.  Proudly introduce your mentee to colleagues so she can make connections and others can learn from your example.
  5. Be open to issues of work/life balance.  Don’t shy away from personal concerns.  As you well know, family, health and money issues come with the territory.  But recognize when you’re about to cross a boundary and refer your mentee to someone who can help with problems outside the scope of your expertise.

Realizing I hadn’t spoken to Jeanne in several years, I Googled her to discover that she now owns and operates a vineyard in Solvang, California.  I immediately shot her an email and reconnected.  After all, like fine wine, mentors improve with age.

Libby Gill is an executive coach, brand strategist and bestselling author. She has appeared on the Today Show, The Big Idea with Donny Deutsch, CNN, NPR, Oprah & Friends Radio Network, and in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, O Magazine and many more.

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