What’s Your Leadership Legacy?
The best leaders leave a legacy by reproducing themselves into high-potential team members. While leaders should train, coach, motivate, and care about all team members, mentoring is reserved for a select few. However, many mentor/mentee relationships are never maximized for two primary reasons:
- In today’s microwave culture, time is not set aside for this essential leadership practice.
- There is no clear structure or plan to systematically grow a mentee from “Point A” to “Point B.”
It’s been said that inheritance is what you leave behind, whereas legacy is whom you leave behind. This piece will outline nine basic tenets of mentoring high potential team members to help you multiply your leadership, grow others to their fullest potential, and edify your organization in the process.
- Choose carefully. Don’t just mentor whoever is available, those who claim they want to be developed, or people you “like” or are comfortable with. The potential mentee must be ready, willing, and able to grow. Otherwise, you waste two people’s time in a low-return endeavor. You must be able to expect a significant return, over time, for your investment of additional time, energy, and resources.
- Think small. Mentoring effectively requires a meaningful time commitment; thus, if you are going to do it right, you can only expect to be an impactful mentor when mentoring a small number of people at any one time. One is preferable; two is ok; three or more is risky in that through your effort to mentor many, you will grow none in a meaningful manner.
- Think big. If you carefully choose the right mentoring candidates, and focus your energies on a small number of high-potentials, you should expect high-impact results over time: the key being, “over time.” Thus, it’s important to keep in mind that your role as a mentor is not to comfort the mentee; it is to grow him or her to entirely new levels of thinking, habits, skills, and accomplishments through following an intentional step-by-step process. Your time is too valuable to invest it intensely for anything less.
- Set specific objectives. Building on the last point, you should begin your mentoring relationship with specific objectives in mind. They can include: specific things to learn, tasks to master, habits to start or break, attitude or integrity areas to fine-tune, and precise objectives to accomplish. Define clear targets up front, and realistic deadlines to work towards. Once this is done, you have created clear expectations for a return on your investment, while offering the mentee clear growth objectives to work towards, creating an accountability benchmark in the process.
- Provide resources. You can’t just tell someone to run a marathon and expect them to be successful if all they have ever been trained to do is run around the block. Based on the specific objectives you have created, determine what you must do to resource the successful attainment of the objectives you have established: books, online courses, seminars, an outside coach, and the like.
- Provide empowerment. Equipping people and then restraining them is frustrating and wasteful. Once you have set clear objectives and trained the mentee how to do what is necessary to reach them, you must give the latitude and discretion they need to apply what they have learned. This step may also include you removing red tape or other road blocks that are potential minefields on the path to success. Frankly, if you are not prepared to let go of some authority and shift it to the mentee so they become less dependent on you and more effective in the process, you will never grow people to their potential. If it’s a matter of trust, then you have obviously chosen the wrong mentee. If, on the other hand, it’s a matter of your personal insecurity that causes you to hold your authority in a death grip, you will need to grow up emotionally so both you and the mentee can go up to higher levels of effectiveness.
- Give it away. Building on the prior point of providing empowerment and giving authority away at the appropriate time to a mentee, you can also create a win/win when you mentor someone in how to perform a task you are currently doing. Ideally, this would be in something that takes you out of your zone, but would increase the mentee’s capabilities and make them more valuable to the organization. Start with one particular task that doesn’t bring a high return for you and perform the task with the mentee, explaining why you do it that way. Encourage him or her to find a better way to do it as long as they achieve the desired result, in the desired time. Then have them do the task while you watch (an inventory, interview, conducting a meeting, etc. are some possibilities), providing feedback afterwards to help them improve performance. Then, when you feel they are ready, let go and let them run with it.
- Be available. Mentors should meet regularly with mentees to accelerate coaching, determine additional needs or challenges, gauge progress, and continue to build their relationship. This is why an effective mentor must be willing to start investing greater amounts of time into smaller groups of strategic people, and not take on too many mentees at once. You can’t mentor by memo, voicemail, or e-mail. Those are supplements, and not substitutes for your personal presence, engagement, and impact.
- Teach this process to the mentee so that he or she can pay it forward. This is where it really gets good. Ideally, the mentee will have someone in the organization—a direct report—they can implement the same mentoring process with. As they invest in others, they will grow their own skills and further add value to the organization by developing a deeper bench and culture of growth.