Set audacious goals, and don't start the mentor relationship until you commit to these six steps.
I recently Googled the word “mentoring,” and immediately noticed three things. One, it remains a trendy topic. Two, most everyone who writes about mentoring provides a definition of what mentoring is. And, three, many of them want to sell you a program on how to make mentoring work.
Sadly, however, I noticed one more thing: Every definition that included a goal for mentoring fell woefully short.
It’s not that the goals I read were bad. They included things like “supporting the growth and development of the mentee,” and “guiding a less experienced or less knowledgeable person,” and helping someone with “professional and personal development.”
That’s all good, but it’s not enough. As leaders who mentor, we should expect more. It’s precisely because we’re typically not expecting more that so many mentoring relationships fail to deliver on the trendy promise.
I believe a bigger goal for mentoring is for leaders to develop other leaders who will surpass them in skill, influence and ability–leaders who rise to a level greater than themselves, who will surpass them in skill, influence, and ability–leaders who rise to a level greater than themselves.
The most successful and respected leaders I’ve encountered in nearly 30 years of consulting, advising, writing, and speaking all pursue this type of Greater Than Yourself mentoring, even if they aren’t aware that they’re doing it.
If you’re willing to take the emotional risks that come with this level of commitment, then here are six steps to get you started.
1. START SMART.
You might eventually have multiple “Greater Than Yourself” (GTY) projects at the same time, but it’s best to start small. Pick one person you trust and deeply believe in: someone whose personal aspirations can benefit from your unique experiences, skills, values, and network.
Also, be conscious of the qualities already evident in your protégé. You want someone with the drive, energy, heart, and desire to take full advantage of the experience, someone whose values align with yours, and, brace yourself, someone you love.
2. DON’T SELL THE HYPE.
Your first conversation with the person you identify should be a frank discussion about your intentions. Give them reality, not hype, and make sure they’re willing and up to the task. Tell them what you’re willing to give and what you expect from them.
My first GTY project, for example, wanted to excel as a writer and public speaker. I promised to do all I knew to do help him become a better-known, more influential author and speaker than myself, but only if he was willing to take full advantage of the things I could offer. He was.
3. PLUG THEM IN.
Work your way through your network of contacts and create a list of everyone who offers potential value to your GTY. Then plug them in by making the appropriate introductions. Don’t hold back. The more you give, the greater the opportunities for real, lasting success.
4. BECOME A RAVING FAN.
You’re already an advocate of your GTY’s value and talent, so it shouldn’t be hard to talk them up. When they experience success, be the first to shine a spotlight in their direction. And don’t just seize opportunities to sing their praise; create those opportunities.
5. SPEAK THE TRUTH IN LOVE.
Words of encouragement are wonderful, and we all need to hear them – when they reflect reality. And tough love, the kind that holds someone ridiculously accountable to their goals and aspirations, isn’t always easy.
Done with respect, however, a tough truth makes a powerful difference. You can say nice things as they meander into a ditch, or yank them (metaphorically speaking, of course) onto the right road.
6. INSIST ON ONE CONDITION.
This level of mentoring is fundamentally a selfless act. While you begin with the expectation of a commitment from your protégé, you should expect nothing in return, no quid pro quo, for your efforts.
There is, however, one exception: Insist that your GTY project take on someone else as a GTY of their own. In other words, make sure they pay it forward.
If your idea of mentoring is meeting with someone a few times, offering up some advice to the questions they have or the challenges they face, well, that’s a good thing and the other person will reap a few benefits. But if you want to maximize your impact as a leader in this world, set your goals much higher.
Imagine the impact if every year you helped someone become greater than yourself, and every year each of those people did the same. Do the math, and you’ll quickly see that the results will spread so fast and so far that not even Google will be able to keep up.