Great Mentors Focus on the Whole Person, Not Just Their Protégé's Career

By Rick Woolworth
September 3, 2019

Aspiring leaders need more and better mentoring than they’re getting today.

According to a recent study, more than 75% of professional men and women want to have a mentor, yet only 37% have one. What’s more, most mentors are too narrowly focused on career advancement.

african-3574523_960_720The vast majority of the literature on the subject focuses primarily on how mentoring is practiced in the workplace and how organization wide programs are administered. There is remarkably little analysis or advice on how to mentor the whole person, extending beyond the career to include discussions about behavior, values, relationships, parenting, finances and even spiritual life.

But in my experience as a Wall Street executive for 35 years, and now as the president of a nonprofit dedicated to helping leaders establish intergenerational relationships, I’ve learned that a holistic mentoring approach can be dramatically more effective than one focused solely on career development.

Mentoring the whole person takes more effort, time and thought. Here are some practices for doing it well:

SHARE YOUR STORIES: When I meet with a younger person for the first time, I say: “Tell me your story. Start at the beginning and take your time — 20 or 30 minutes. I may ask a few questions, and everything you say will be confidential between us. Then, when you’re finished, I’ll tell you my story if you want me to.” (They always do.) This exercise shows you’re truly interested in understanding your mentee, not just in dispensing professional advice.

ASK GREAT QUESTIONS: Effective mentors develop a storehouse of probing questions. Examples include: What keeps you up at night? Can you see yourself being stimulated and fulfilled on your current career path for the next five years? What do you do to “reboot”? Who has been most influential in your life?

START WITH THE END IN MIND: Perhaps the most important question you can ask a mentee is: How do you personally define long-term success? An effective way to unpack this question is to say: “Imagine that tonight there is a party honoring you on your 80th birthday. Write down five brief things you would like family and close friends to say about you.”

TEACH THEM HOW TO FISH: My most valuable mentor was Bob Buford, a cable television entrepreneur. At one stage in my career I was struggling with a difficult boss, and I was hoping Bob would tell me what to do. Instead, he asked a series of questions that enabled me to identify the real issue and create a course of action on my own. Bob was teaching me how to fish by not providing the fish.

UNPACK YOUR MENTEE’S ‘TOOLKIT’: Most younger people have limited self-awareness about how they are uniquely “wired.” Ask your mentees to take advantage of personal-assessment tools such as StrengthsFinderMyers-Briggs, the Enneagram personality assessment and Johnson O’Connor’s aptitude tests.

REMEMBER THAT MOST OF MENTORING IS ‘CAUGHT, NOT TAUGHT’: How you serve as a role model is as important as your face-to-face meetings.

By mentoring the whole person and not limiting your conversations to career matters, you will have a much greater impact on your mentees. The effects will be felt by them — and everyone they influence — for years to follow.

Copyright 2019 Harvard Business School Publishing Corp. Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate.

Topics: Management

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