Mentoring 101: How to Choose the Right Protégés

Effective mentorship strategies can give enterprises a huge boost. The great minds and professionals of today were not born with greatness. They were all sculpted by their experiences, and with most success stories there is usually a fruitful mentor-protégé partnership that helped develop them and guide them to success.

Industries were built on great mentorship. Take, for instance, the iconic Oprah Winfrey who had well-renowned author Maya Angelou as her mentor. Steve Jobs mentored not just one but many of the current business moguls making an impact right now, including Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Marc Benioff of Salesforce. Fashion visionaries like Christian Dior were under the tutelage of haute couture designer Yves St. Laurent. Sir Felix Aylmer mentored Audrey Hepburn, who in turn mentored Elizabeth Taylor. And well, the list goes on.

But how do you find good candidates to mentor? Here are a few things you need to know when choosing the right protégé:

Their talents are aligned with your strategies

The key to good mentorship strategies are planning ahead and naturally embedding mentorship in the workplace.

Mentorships are necessary for a company’s future plans, whether as a natural succession of management or as a backup plan for when an urgent change is needed. For example, when Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos came under fire this year, Yale’s Jeff Sonnenfeld told the board to think about how they should plan to create a succession plan in case Bezos had to leave. This would have ensured that the company continued to operate with minimum disruption.

Identifying future leaders is vital to a company’s continuation. In a white paper on succession planning by Special Counsel, the legal consulting firm outlines several essentials that mentors need to be aware of in terms of choosing successors. This includes knowing how to transfer not just knowledge, but also key working relationships that can smooth out the succession process. This applies to all companies no matter what size, whether it is a multinational like Amazon or an SME.

Pick from a wider pool

Preparing for all contingencies entails selecting competent and reliable people who can do your job. Never assume that they are all the same. In fact, finding someone to mentor does not necessarily mean you can only pick people below your pay grade. Effective mentorship encompasses even your peers. Bates Communications CEO Suzanne Bates highlights that the best mentoring relationships grow out of mutuality. Choosing a mentee means finding someone whose criticism you’re open to. After all, mentorship should be a two-way street.

Look for loyal and highly productive mentees

Performance is an important measure when choosing your mentee. This way you are rewarding loyalty and motivating everyone by incentivizing output-based productivity. Sylvia Ann Hewlett is the CEO of the Center for Talent Innovation and Hewlett Chivée Partners, and points out that “performance is the critical first deliverable. Not surprisingly, what marks an individual as ‘high potential’ is typically his or her ability to deliver superior results consistently, no matter the challenges or circumstances.”

Favor diversity

Bloomberg presented a study by the Center for Talent Innovation that found that around 71% of executives invested in junior employees of the same gender and race. This can be counterproductive in a workplace where diversity fosters a wider array of talent and experience, which is essential for facing challenges.

Cultural diversity in mentorship programs impact overall business development. Nationwide Insurance’s VP Candice Barnhardt highlights that formal mentorship programs can “reduce turnover, enhance a company’s recruitment efforts, increase the overall performance of a company and create an overall improved work environment, especially for women and people of color.”

Mentors should also be looking for the gaps and the needs of the firm, and not just mirror their strengths and weaknesses. If not given attention, a mentor can overlook the company’s potential to build an effective and diverse workforce. Networks with individuals from different cultural backgrounds are much more creatively stimulated by different ideas and perspectives.

Remember that choosing your protégé isn’t something that can happen overnight. In summary, a complete understanding of your employees and the needs of your company will help you choose your next successor. Always keep in mind that it’s not a problem to solve but a necessary management process for the firm’s future.


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