How (and Why) To Use Mentorship To Inspire Teams And Fuel Personal Growth



Before the internet gave us access to everyone, everywhere, those of us looking for mentorship were limited to our rolodexes. We either had a connection, knew someone who might, or went on wild goose chases in search of wisdom. As such, mentorship opportunities were scarcer, and mentoring relationships tended to evolve as extended one-on-one engagements. 

Modern-day mentoring resources have completely changed that dynamic.

Mentoring is every bit as crucial. And there are far more ways to find it.

Everyone, but leaders in particular, should make mentorship a key part of their professional lives. Within companies, mentorship is a way to both grow your team’s skills and make them enthusiastic about growing with the company. Outside, mentorship lets you extend your wisdom to people who are hungry for it, and spread the values you care about to the next generation. Nowadays, there are nontraditional ways to find it. Here are a few I’ve found especially useful.

What I’ve learned from my company’s internal mentorship programs:

A couple years ago, my company started doing mentorship circles. We wanted to offer an alternative to the one-on-one dynamics that are useful for the people involved but provide limited access. At first, the circles focused on a common topic and were open to anyone who was interested. The program has evolved over the years; here are a few best practices that have emerged over time.

The biggest learning was to make mentoring circles level-specific. We started by mixing individual contributors, managers, directors, and leaders. But we found we could have more impact by making content level-specific-;i.e., having managers lead meetings for individual contributors, having directors lead meetings for managers, etc.

Level-specific meetings maximized the content’s impact because everyone there had similar growth opportunities, and the discussions were way more robust, and applicable to the whole audience. It also gave people a clear idea of the skills, and projects, and ways of creating their own individual development plans to advance through the company. 

When people want to move up a level, they know there’s a lot they don’t know-;but by definition, they don’t know what it is. Having the people above them shine a light into those question areas is extremely valuable.

For example, in our senior manager mentoring circle, a lot of the content focuses on the question: What does it mean to have a wider sphere of influence? How does that come to life? What are some examples of it? It’s not about giving finance contributors lessons in Excel; it’s about showing them how to think and comport themselves in expanded roles.

External mentorship programs (resources for all levels):

This is where new, nontraditional tools really come into play. Modern mentorship often defies the long-term, one-on-one model that we’re used to. That’s a good thing. At my career stage, I usually act as the mentor, but there are certainly opportunities to act as the mentee as well. Here’s how I do it (and what I think about in the meetings).

  • Be radically honest. There’s a platform I use called Intro where people can book 15-minute meetings with all kinds of experts. (Full disclosure: I’m one of their investors and on the platform myself to be a mentor.) I take a couple of these meetings per week. It’s an extremely compressed period of time, and I want my mentees to get as much out of it as possible. 
  • So, I’m radically honest. Absolutely honest feedback is one of the most valuable things you can give someone, especially early in their entrepreneurship journey or when they’re considering a major venture. If I think it’s a bad idea, I’ll tell them. If I think there are ways to modify it to make it viable, I’ll share those, too. 15 minutes means there’s no time to beat around the bush.
  • Know your audience. Another platform I use is called Home From College, where I can talk directly to college kids who are envisioning their careers.
  • This is a very different group from the people I might talk to on Intro. College kids have far more questions than answers. They’re in an investigative stage, where they know their general areas of interest and their skills, but they don’t know how they’ll apply them (or where they’ll be most satisfied applying them).
  • Thus, what I talk about and how I talk about it is very specific to this crowd. I talk more about myself in college, what I did early in my career, and how those experiences informed my decision to become an entrepreneur. Regardless of who you’re talking to, think of how to adapt your story in ways that are most useful for them.

The channels for mentorship may have changed, but its value remains the same. Good mentorship can shorten your personal growth curve, enhance your company’s culture, and extend goodwill throughout a growing network. Embrace new models of mentoring relationships, and practice both giving and receiving.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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