Mentoring young leaders is a passion of mine. At sixty two, the more young leaders I can help grow, the more ripples I can make - and keep on making after I have left the leadership stage. I believe that mentoring is a stewardship responsibility of all leaders and it is one of the most unselfish investments we can make.
Mentoring young leaders is all about taking people with significant potential and helping expedite their growth through your sponsorship, attention and leadership example. A proven leader can open critical doors of opportunity, understanding and growth to a young leader which can dramatically accelerate the leadership trajectory of young leaders.
I recently reflected on some of the lessons I have learned in this process:
Look for potential not experience. Almost all job applications have an experience clause. Sometimes that is what you need. But often, what you really want is the "right stuff" in potential that can be shaped and grown. It is a thrill to hire someone who is "too young" by others standards and watch them flourish.
Look for good EQ. Good emotional intelligence is critical for a mentee because there will be plenty of opportunities when they will need to receive honest feedback on their performance. Poor EQ - defensiveness, inability to accept honest feedback, poor relational skills - will prevent them from growing like the should. Get good EQ, combined with potential and you have a powerful combination.
Help them understand their wiring and strengths. Mentoring is not about growing another "you" but about helping a young leader understand how God designed them, how they are wired and where their strengths lie - and don't lie. Young people often don't have the life experience to figure that out well but a good mentor can dramatically speed up the process by helping them discover their strengths.
Dialogue a lot. Mentor's use Socratic dialogue to help those they mentor think through issues, solve problems, discover solutions and evaluate performance. By its very nature, mentoring takes time and only those who are willing to make the investment will make good mentors. People learn the best when they are challenged to think critically and evaluate well so mentors think out loud with their mentees on a regular basis.
Ask lots of questions. The more questions one asks, the more you will help your young leader think and evaluate. Engage their perspective on people, situations, problems and solutions. Don't tell, ask - and then dialogue.
Give honest feedback. Good mentors give feedback but they do it in appropriate ways and appropriate settings. No, the Trump method "You're Fired," does not fit that paradigm! Mentors never embarrass by calling out a failure or misstep in public. They do it behind closed doors and in a way that causes growth, not discouragement (again, good EQ is very helpful).
Allow young leaders to figure it out and even fail. We learn more from our failures than our successes so allowing young leaders to figure out how do get something done (consistent with their strengths) and even to get it wrong on occasion is a powerful growth strategy. We practice "autopsy without blame" after a failure. We want to know why it happened and what went wrong and why but it is not about blame, but about learning.
Give assignments that stretch. Often, young leaders do not see in themselves what others see in them. Giving assignments that are out of their comfort zone - but within their ability helps them test their skills and critical thinking. Again, Socratic dialogue along the way is helpful, but not solving the problems they encounter.
Keep their plate full. Bright young leaders get bored quickly. Keep their plate full so that they continue to grow and stretch and increase their capacity. If they are really good - do whatever it takes to keep them engaged with you so that they don't look for greener pastures elsewhere.
Let them shadow you. Young leaders need models of what good leadership looks like. Because mentors are all about developing others, find ways to expose them to your world even if it is not in their job description. Exposure to meetings, problems, problem solving and other key people will give them context that they would not otherwise have and exposure that helps them leverage growth.
Ensure a relationship of high trust. Mentors often share information with a young leader they would not share with others - precisely because by introducing them to one's world and the real challenges one faces, young leaders learn how to deal with real life situations. This means, however that young leaders must be trustworthy (EQ again) to keep information that is private private and the maturity to handle sometimes difficult information. Clear guidelines should be discussed up front and reminders made along the way regarding confidential information.
Don't push them to be like you. You are you, not them. Encourage leaders to lead from their strengths, think of their own solutions and find their own way. We are there to share wisdom, principles and help them shorten their learning curve. They will do things differently than you and you should encourage and celebrate this.
Be tansparent. Sharing one's life honestly is an important element in growing leaders. Understanding how to balance life, deal with life when it comes undone and persevering in Godly character is the inner core that will sustain young leaders over the long haul. Wherever appropriate, be transparent so that they are challenged by your heart and character as well as your leadership expertise.
Mentoring is a challenge and a great privilege. And it allows you to expand your influence far beyond what you could ever do yourself.