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"The greatest good you can do for another is not just to share your riches but to reveal to him his own."
Benjamin Disraeli

Mentoring confers a host of benefits...on the mentor. It can solidify your authority, your credibility. It can raise your status in business circles. But, at its core, mentorship is always, always, about the protégé. How do you ensure that you share your riches in a way that helps them uncover their own?

In "The Art of Giving and Receiving Advice," authors David A. Garvin and Joshua D. Margolis offer a structured, 5-stage approach to the mentoring process:

1. Finding the Right Fit

The concept of mentorship goes back centuries. In the Odyssey, Mentor was the teacher and guide of Telemachus, Odysseus' son. He was half-god, half-human, half-male, half-female. He was, in short, all things to all people. As a mentor (today, here in the 21st century), it's your job to recognize that you cannot be all things to all people!

Garvin and Margolis caution that when approached for advice, you should take the time to ask yourself key questions:

  • Do I really have time to devote to this person?
  • Do I have the right background and experience to help them overcome challenges and achieve their goals?
  • Why did this person seek me out for advice? (While you have the final say - yes or no - it is instructive to reflect on why someone would have approached you for guidance).

And, it is important to ask if you want to devote your time and energy to this person. This Forbes piece reinforces the importance of this question:

When you think of it as a time drain, it is becomes exhausting, and the commitment is not valuable to you. However, when being a mentor is done with the right intention, you walk out of each meeting with more energy and focus than you ever did before.

While mentoring is about the mentee, you can only offer your best if you're invested. As Garvin and Margolis write, "Saying no is a service too." And if the answer is "no," help the individual identify other sources who can help.

2. Developing Shared Understanding

As a mentor, you'll have to get up to date with your mentee's situation and then work to expand their understanding - and quickly. Garvin and Margolis suggest choosing a location, as free of distractions as possible, that lends itself to open and confidential conversations. Starbucks? (Kidding!)

Once you've created your "safe zone," allow your mentee to speak openly and without judgment. And don't butt in, as tempting as it is. At this point, you're a bit like a detective: you're gathering information - and avoiding giant leaps to erroneous conclusions.

The best approach is to ask open-ended questions, intended to establish trust and get to the bottom of the issue at hand (e.g. How do you feel about this situation? What do you mean by X? Would you tell me more about Y?)

Mentees will often tell "self-serving" stories (don't we all). So tease out details with more questions. Garvin and Margolis suggest "inquiring about root causes, potential consequences, and other pertinent issues not explicitly mentioned. They'll speak volumes if you can get them out in the open." And when you've uncovered as much of the situation as possible? Talk to your mentee about what type of advice he needs. Does he just need to bounce ideas off you? Or does he need suggestions for actions?

Garvin and Margolis identify four categories of guidance/advice that comes in handy in particular situations:

  • Discreet Advice. Here, you explore options and, ideally, offer a recommendation related to a single decision. It could concern anything from whether your mentee should pursue a potential merger to which manager he should promote.
  • Council. When your mentee is dealing with a difficult or unfamiliar circumstances, offer guidance. If, for instance, he is facing a tough, contentious situation with the board, you provide a framework for understanding the situation and navigating through it.
  • Coaching. Instead of focusing on a single incident or problem, you're helping your mentee enhance and build skills, such as communicating with direct-reports, using time effectively, or running better meetings.
  • Mentoring. Again, mentoring paints with broader strokes. Your role encompasses providing support, guidance, and advice to help your mentee grow professionally and personally.

As a mentor, your overall goal is to build a relationship of support to facilitate your mentee's personal and professional success - but the route you take may vary. Some situations call for quick advice, others for coaching. Some call for questions, some for answers. This is why it is critical to establish what type of guidance your mentee wants and needs.

3. Develop Alternative Solutions

While one of the benefits of mentoring is that it improves decision-making, you as mentor, do not make the decisions. As Garvin and Margolis remind us, "It's the seeker's job to find the path forward." That said, there is tremendous value in exploring alternatives with your mentee.

When you pose alternatives, be sure that you:

  • Describe each possibility and how you arrived at it.
  • Share experiences and/or values that relate to this particular challenge.
  • Examine possible biases so you can both determine if your advice suits the situation.
  • Make it clear - again - that it is the mentee's decision to act, not act, take advice, or leave it.

Your job is to empower your mentee to think for themselves and make sound decisions on their own. Yes, even if it is not quite what you would do.

4. Converging on a Decision

One of the benefits of having a mentor is that you can flesh out ideas and explore various angles before making decisions. And one of the benefits of being a mentor is that you're in a position to help them do just that. Assist your mentee in evaluating all the options that you've discussed.

What are the possible outcomes? What are the pros and cons of each possibility? What would it be like in a year if you made X decision? What would it look like if you made Y decision?

You may suggest one or a few options, but as you do, stop to make sure your mentee is on board. How are they reacting to your input? Are they comfortable with your advice? Do they understand on what that advice is based? Check and see how they're doing and if they need additional explanation/support.

No matter what type of decision they're making - as small as how to approach a minor conflict at work to as large as switching organizations or careers - make sure your mentee knows that you are available for further consultation. Indicate that you are willing to provide further clarification - or guidance - as they need. (Go back to step 1: if you don't have time for this, do a service and say "no" upfront.)

5. Execution: Advice into Action

Not your deal. At this point, you've got to step back and let your mentee take the wheel. The decision, and consequences, are theirs - no matter how much you're invested. That's not to say that they're left hanging, alone with the aftermath. If you're committed to continuing as a mentor, make yourself available to help them with additional guidance.

The best mentors realize that mentoring - while offering great benefit to them - is truly about the growth and development of the mentee. These steps are, by no means, a "tell all" guide to mentoring - but they do offer a solid basis for a beneficial relationship that will help you reveal your protégé's "riches" - or rather, it will help you encourage them to discover those riches on their own.


Larry Hart

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