Thirty years from now when people think back on you and your career, what will they remember?
Todd Henry, author of Herding Tigers, encourages us that “Our Legacy isn’t the work, it’s the people.” If that’s true, then we should strive to and plan to leave behind more than a record of economic success. We must consider how we are building confidence and success into the young leaders who will fill in the professional spaces below and between us, especially the women trying to find their place in male-dominated industries.
Mentorship is one of our greatest tools for investing in future leaders and while we often envision mentorship as a long-term relationship between two people, mentorships come in many different forms during the seasons of our careers. The college professor who encourages a young writer; the supervisor who increases an employee’s responsibilities at work; the seasoned business owner who helps an entrepreneur through opening a business. All of these people invest a bit of themselves in helping to pay it forward and build a life and a career for someone else.
Finding a good fit
Though your prospective mentee might come to you, it’s not out of the question for you to actively seek out an individual that you feel can benefit from your knowledge. Within your own professional sphere, there is likely someone–perhaps a younger woman–who you see as a “rising star” or someone who shows promise for a great career. Another good source for mentees are students at a local university. If you are in a position of controlling hiring decisions, consider having an intern join your organization for a semester.
Does your mentee need to be a woman? Not necessarily, but women can have a harder time finding a mentor. Senior female professionals are few and far between and can be overwhelmed by other work and non-work responsibilities. So, if you are in a position of authority in your industry, it’s safe to assume that your expertise will be welcomed. You have been in their shoes and know the unique challenges they’re likely to come up against.
Should only women mentor other women? Absolutely not. Professional men and women should equally be willing to invest in talent wherever (and in whomever) it lies. A diverse workforce benefits all of us actively engaging in the professional development with both men and women.
Mentorship is for you, too!
Don’t forget that mentorship is not only valuable to the person being mentored but to you as well. Choose a mentee who can stretch you, teach you and help you develop your own personal and professional skills. Mentoring relationships are safe places to test out techniques, receive feedback and learn what is needed to help someone else experience success. It can also be a great environment for developing your own self-awareness.
Corporations have known for a long time that mentorships help all levels of professionals grow and thrive. This often takes a reduced level of importance in smaller organizations. So, whether you are a solo entrepreneur or the owner of a small business, there is someone out there who can benefit from your coaching and you will gain just as much.
How to make it work
Any mentorship you engage in will need to be a balance between what you can offer and your mentee’s needs and wants. Do an honest assessment of your own availability and abilities and then have a candid conversation with your prospective mentee. Be clear what your expertise is and your willingness to share it with others. Start by defining a few clear objectives for your mentee, as well as things you hope to learn along the way. Have short-term goals and re-evaluate regularly.
Don’t expect every mentorship to last years; some may be project-specific or last through a career transition. What matters most in mentorship is taking someone’s hand and helping pull them up another step along the way. Whether this happens in emails over years or across your kitchen table after hours is inconsequential. Some mentees will walk away after a couple months; some will become lifelong friends and colleagues. Both are a sign of success.
Get to know the individuals you mentor. Affirm them where you see them thriving and help them strengthen the places where they’re weak. Encourage them to work toward ambitious goals and then count yourself fortunate to be there to watch them achieve success.