Ah, the sweet smell of success! It hovers around you like a fine cologne. When you enter the room, heads turn. People gravitate toward you, clamoring for your time and attention, seeking your advice on make-or-break issues that have taken you years of experience to master.
How did it come to this? When did you become the go-to guy or gal in your field? More importantly, now that you are irreplaceable, how do you plan to replace yourself when the time comes? What will be your legacy?
When you were first starting out, before you gained this rarefied level of experience, you knew you had to find someone with more knowledge about your topic than you. You needed a mentor—someone to cut short your learning curve and guide you through the subtleties of your craft.
Whether consciously or by default, you became someone’s protégé. Your mentor taught you well, letting you fall down when you needed to and helping you get back up, brushing off the sting of embarrassment.
“Feedback is a gift,“ you were told. “Accept it graciously, and give thanks.” There are times you gladly would have smacked your mentor with that precious “feedback!” Now you merely chuckle at the memory.
Since those early days you have been on quite a journey, and now you have a tale to tell about your adventures. Just as in the Hero’s Journey, you departed from your known world, crossed the threshold of adventure, and returned home again with the Golden Key. The spoils of victory are yours to share with others.
In other words, you are ready for the task of mentoring a protégé yourself—someone to carry on your work. You have a chance to leave a legacy for the next generation and help shape the course of history.
It sounds great, but where do you start? Like most things, mentoring a protégé requires a systematic approach including an intention, an ideal candidate, and a clear goal.
The Shape of Mentoring
Few things are more rewarding than guiding someone else through the maze of knowledge about your chosen field. Arguably, the mentor-protégé relationship is the ultimate teaching experience.
You can transfer your accumulated ideas and experience to someone else, and both you and your protégé will benefit materially and in intangible ways. Your protégé becomes a link in the chain of human history, and as a mentor, you leave the best kind of legacy.
Protégés are common in the realm of commerce and more. Across a variety of industries, experienced professionals routinely adopt a protégé and provide coaching on their best practices. Business, manufacturing, construction, medicine, religion and the entertainment industry all make use of mentoring as a standard practice.
The mentor-protégé connection can be formal or informal. Formal mentoring programs are usually found within a company, an organization or industry. Informal relationships abound as well but tend to fly under the radar of common notice.
The Service Corps of Retired Executives is a great example of an established formal mentoring program. Retired business executives invest their time and expertise in developing protégés in the business sector. They come from every sector, every walk of life, and they represent a rich reservoir of experience to tap.
With informal mentoring, relationships tend to develop naturally, even spontaneously, when an experienced professional provides guidance and help to a newcomer.
This kind of mentoring can be effective, but it may suffer from a lack of structure unless the mentor-protégé pair set concrete and realistic goals.
Having a definite timeline and end-game will ensure the relationship’s viability. Like most projects, success is within reach only with a clear, written set of tasks and milestones. As a mentor, your calendar and To-Do list are your greatest allies. These tools can be your best gift to your new protégé as well.
You don’t have to be a great guru to have something worthwhile to offer as a mentor. With your experience in a skill or industry, you can help someone new to your field. Watching new talent unfold could be one of your greatest pleasures.
3 Tips for Mentoring Success
Here are some key ideas to keep in mind as you begin your mentoring journey.
- Mentoring is a partnership. It allows for an exchange of ideas, and the exchange needs to flow both ways. Each party must be committed and fully participate in order to learn from each other.
- Besides skills and business behaviors, your protégé will acquire attitudes from you. A positive frame of mind is essential to success as a mentor.
- Stay open to new ideas which invariably come up during the process. Encourage dialogue, exchange, and inspiration. Tap your protégé for the skills they’d like to learn, and you might even be surprised at the things you learn along the journey.
As you take on your role as mentor, focus on activities and actions that help your protégé become more independent. Don’t just hand them success. They need to succeed on their own merits, not by riding your coattails.
When you coach a young protégé to success, you’re leaving a lasting legacy, and the future belongs to both of you.
Bryan Heathman is the President of Made for Success Publishing and the host of the Book Publishing Success podcast show. Bryan works with best-selling business authors, including NYT best-selling authors Chris Widener and Tom Hopkins, plus up-and-coming authors including Johnny Covey. Bryan is the author of Conversion Marketing, a marketing book on converting website visitors into buyers. Bryan’s Fortune 500 experience includes Microsoft, Eastman Kodak and Xerox.