I decided to leave my senior management job last year to launch mine Start. Once the initial shock passed, my boss and I plunged into the transition and transfers of my teams, responsibilities and unfinished projects. Then she asked for one more thing: a presentation to colleagues on mentoring.
“It’s your superpower,” she said.
The exercise forced me to think and examine my leadership style in a different way. Mentorship, be it give-and-take, was not only consistent in my career, but also a cornerstone of its success.
It is certainly a growing trend in the workplace. While workers once had to search on their own or within professional networks, companies are increasingly offering formal mentoring and support. Almost three quarters of Fortune 500 companies have mentoring programs. And one The Deloitte survey found that 61% of millennials have a mentor, and their ideal week is spending more time fostering those relationships.
Mentors have given me the confidence to take the risk (including starting my own business), while mentees are constantly changing my worldview, disrupting my comfort level, exposing me to new platforms and technologies .
Indeed, research shows career mentoring has mutual benefits and is not only beneficial to the protected. This is the first secret I shared in my swan song: I get more out of it than they do. Expense of my time leading a great team in a Fortune 10 Company, I share other lessons learned to support your transition from manager to mentor:
- You have to believe. It’s so simple yet essential to any relationship you’re trying to develop. If you don’t believe that the people around you can grow up, take on challenges, be truly great, then your efforts will be shallow and insincere. Talent is rarely innate and everything can be learned. Approach work, creativity and management with this philosophy – you can do it! – is liberating for staff members, especially those at the start of their career. It’s impossible to ask people to trust them if we haven’t told them trust. Studies confirm this: in a June survey by PwC, employees said the best way for a company to build confidence is with more compassionate and empathetic leadership.
- Feed people, early and often. My grandfather was a farmer and entrepreneur in an Indian village. He was known for his honesty, and my grandmother feared that “nice guys would end up last” and that this trait would lead them to poverty or swindle. She designed a worker feeding system before they went to the fields or to the jobs. It spawned loyalty and personal bonding, and in his words, “They care less when I yell at them.” Nearly a century later, I borrowed the pandemic approach by sending my colleagues meals, plants and candles to show their support even as the demands of the job intensified. Once a member of staff tweeted that he missed his mom at Easter, so I sent a basket of plastic eggs and candy. Gifts don’t have to be as expensive as they are meaningful, and food literally feeds. My grandmother was up to something: well-nourished people who feel connected to you might actually heed your vision.
- Three guiding questions. I found myself facing many proteges. Someone has probably told them that they should network, find a mentor, seek answers from more experienced professionals, but they don’t really know what to ask. It’s up to mentors to put these people at ease and guide the next steps. I learned to ask pointed but existential questions. They are:Are you happy? What brings you joy? What do you want to do? Often the answer is, “No one has ever asked me this before.” (Translation: “I’ve never asked myself that question before.”) Figuring out what you want is probably the hardest part of career discovery.
- Love and nurture the talent of Blacks and Maroons. I spent most of my life defending diversity and inclusion at home and at work. It’s part of my leadership style. But this rule, when applied to mentoring, is more than a plea. Because people of color face so many implicit biases, often at work, it’s up to us, managers and mentors, to counter these forces. I believe in what comedian Dave Chappelle has dubbed “kindness plot“On” Saturday Night Live “last year. “Do something good for a black person just because they are black, and you have to make sure they don’t deserve it,” he says. “That’s a very important part, they can’t deserve it, the same way they’ve done terrible things to black people all these years just because they’re black and they don’t deserve it.” How to apply it: Prioritize people of color, both as mentors and mentees. If I’m leading a meeting, I check the performance invitation lists. I call people who have not spoken. It becomes second nature after a while, which leads me to believe that we can fight our own biases once we recognize their existence and constantly work to compensate.
- Always recruit. I try to have three off-schedule calls or meetings a week with young talent. It helps create a bench of people to turn to when the perfect opening finally occurs. Because these conversations result in high potential hires, the strategy allows subsequent job interviews to focus more on “selling” the chance to work with us and answer questions about the position.
- Help the people you supervise to fight chemistry questions. A common problem in the workplace is what to do if two people don’t get along. Here, I encourage mentees (and myself) to literally try to reset the chemistry, or at least the influence that person has on their moods, sense of work, and worth. Sometimes openly approaching the coworker in question and telling them you want to reset is a welcome opening; they probably felt the tension as well. I once encouraged a team member to do this, and he came back laughing, “All he wants from me is a monthly traffic report. Easy enough. We never knew what the other really wanted.
- You can’t be who you are not. This is the most important lesson for mentors and mentees. What works for me won’t work for, say, an introverted white man. We waste a lot of time frustrated that people can’t read our minds or do things exactly the way we do them. Yet the best products and innovations emerge from a variety of lenses and perspectives. Our job is not to transform others into us; it’s to make them the best version of themselves.
Wondering what the future of work has in store for us?
Visit Fortuneof Work smarter Hub sponsored by Future Forum by Slack. And find out more here:
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