Recently, I was surfing an online discussion board, and came across an interesting request posted by another user.

This user was writing about how to do mentorship. She wrote:

“I ...would be interested in hearing from anyone who developed an in-house mentoring program, where senior management develop leadership capability in middle managers.”

I provided a brief response, which I (have attempted to polish and) would like to share with you.

Five Steps: ONE Way to Mentor

I submit that ONE way (certainly not the only way) to do mentorship is to employ a Customer (Mentee)-focused facilitation process, that uses the following five steps:

First, using open-ended and probing questions, facilitate the Mentee's identification of their long-term personal and professional goals.

Examples of such open-ended and probing questions:

  • When you are 95 years old, sitting on your porch, what are the most important things that you will tell your Grandchildren about your professional life?
  • In one snapshot, what do you want your professional career look like? One forty year career? Two twenty year careers? Completely stop working at retirement, or continue to do some sort of work until they put you in the ground?
  • Does your current occupation / career make your heart sing? When you daydream about your perfect career, what does it look like? Does it look like what you are currently doing?

Second, using a similar method of open-ended and probing questions, help your Mentee identify those short-term milestones that they can take to achieve their long-term goals.

Short-term milestones could include: formal education, specific positions, technical experience, licenses and / or certifications, philanthropic work, civic activity, professional communications (writing, speaking, etc.), and so forth.

More examples of useful questions:

  • To move forward toward those broad visions of what your professional life should look like, what must you do in the next five years?
  • To achieve your five year plan, what goals must you accomplish in the next two years? In the next year? In the next six months? In the next quarter?
  • To achieve your mid-range and short-term goals, what actions must you take in the next month? In the next week? TODAY?

Third, show your Mentee the value of their work with your organization, as it relates to their goals. Point out where the Mentee's goals and milestones align with the organization's mission, activities, and opportunities for development and upward progression. Not only does this help the Mentee create a path forward for themselves in your organization, but it also inspires the Mentee to commit to the organization's mission and activities (if alignment exists).

An important point with step three: if alignment between your Mentee's goals and the organization's goals does NOT exist, your Mentee probably has to ask themselves if they are where they are supposed to be, or if they are working in their current field / position for the sole purpose of collecting a paycheck. If this is the case, perhaps it is in the best interests of both your Mentee and the organization for your Mentee to look for opportunities elsewhere.

Fourth, in either case, step four is to help your Mentee identify a handful of actionable, short-term tasks that they can accomplish prior to the next mentorship session (which should occur in one week, two weeks, perhaps one month). 

Fifth, conduct further mentorship sessions. These sessions should include:

  • A review and reaffirmation (or refinement) of goals and milestones.
  • A progress check of those short-term tasks identified in the last mentorship session.
  • Provision of relevant additional resources (websites, books, ideas, etc.), to stimulate your Mentee’s growth and progress.
  • Answering any questions that your Mentee may have (often by using those leading questions to help your Mentee answer them for themselves).
  • Encouraging your Mentee to reflect on their progress and thoughts (metacognition).

Finally, one very important point: in this process, you are a facilitator, not a decision maker. All decisions need to be made and owned by your Mentee. If you create your Mentee's plan and make decisions for them, their commitment to and execution of the plan is likely to fail, and if (when) failure occurs, your Mentee may come back and blame you for trying to make them do something that they did not want to do.