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Investing In People Through Mentorship

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Many mentorships are transitory and transactional relationships, but ideally, the mentor will intentionally creates an engaging and emotionally safe learning culture.

Mentorship is a deeply personal, trusting relationship between two people. The more experienced person (the mentor) perceives unique potential in the other person (the mentee) and creates challenging experiences to help the mentee develop the knowledge, skills, and qualities to fulfill that potential. The mentor becomes vested in unleashing the mentee, with no other objective than the satisfaction of seeing this rising star succeed as the reward. 

“I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set her free,” remarked Michelangelo in one of the most famous quotes of possibly the most famous sculptor. Being a mentor is a bit like being Michelangelo. You don’t shape the stone into an image that you want, but into the beautiful statue that’s already there.  

Mentors differ from others whose help you need along your journey. For example,  

– A mentor is more than an advisor who doesn’t get involved in the doing.  

– A mentor is more than a teacher who may teach skills or techniques but isn’t vested in the long-term well-being and success of the mentee.  

– A mentor is more than a sponsor who creates opportunities that are also in the interest of the sponsor in return for the mentee’s dedicated services. A mentor will help regardless of whether he or she has anything to gain.  

On the surface, it’s hard to tell a good mentor from the other types of relationships noted above. They work on the same projects together, they have feedback sessions, one’s success seems to elevate the success of the other, and so on. However, there are subtle differences in the mentor relationship. 

Here are five markers of a true mentor:  

1. Takes a genuine interest in the person – what makes the mentee tick and how to build on his or her passions.  

2. Maintains constant vigilance – remains alert to telltale signs of hidden strengths and innate talent. Some of these appear only as nascent or weak signals and require close attention.  

3. Applies continuous thought – to determine how these strengths could be nurtured, expressed, and tested; how to build awareness and self-confidence; and what might be the next doable stretch to challenge and develop the mentee. 

4. Responds with timeliness — is available and present when the mentee deals with new opportunities and challenges. Importantly, the mentor is there to offer encouragement and to guide the mentee in how to pick themselves up when a setback occurs. Mentors also interpret progress made, ascertain the next frontier, and describe the journey ahead in a when the time is right.  

5. Provides high challenge and high support – by establishing the trust needed to give unvarnished feedback, as well as unstinting support, to help the mentee make progress.  

Essentially, a mentor must be unceasingly patient, relentlessly faithful, and forever hopeful.  

What makes a good mentee?  

According to the former head of global leadership services at McKinsey, Tsun-yan Hsieh, who can draw from his experience with some 450 mentees over his 40-year career as well as his own experiences as a mentee, “Good mentees are deeply committed to the mentoring relationship. This gets tested at moments of disappointment. Never give up,” he says.   

Good mentees display the following behaviors:  

– Volunteers to do projects for and with mentors. (Tsun-yan was willing to do almost anything to be mentored by the greats.)  

– Creates opportunities for your mentor to see you in action.  

– Takes risks in stretching themselves after first setting it up with the mentor so he or she is there to act as a net if the mentee falls off the trapeze.  

Mentees essentially must trust in their mentors to uncover their blind spots and be open to feedback and suggestions that will influence their personal development. 


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