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Adele Scheele

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How To Be A Mentor

Posted: 02/21/11 02:09 PM ET

Thanks for your requests from my last post, "How to Find a Mentor," for ideas for the next stage -- becoming a mentor yourself. Successful careering is a natural process, one that I have researched for my book "Skills for Success." Just as we yearn to be guided, we also need to provide guidance to others.

I call this the Learn-Do-Teach cycle, one that keeps developing as we grow more successful. First, we begin by having to learn skills to perform our job, forge alliances, and present our ideas to others in order to belong and be recognized. To do that, we ask for and follow the guidance of mentors -- other, more experienced people. We grow more expert ourselves, continuously raising the level of our performance.

At the third cycle of career development, as part of the continuum of mastery, we need to teach what we know. Teaching doesn't require any credential or label. In a more profound sense, we step into the role of mentor or coach when we recognize the need in certain people around and under us who indicate that they are ready to grow and show the potential to represent us moving forward in the world of work.

Mentoring has many rewards. It teaches us what we know as we begin to formalize or highlight strategies for other people to follow, and allows us to choose followers who will embolden us as our own ideas take form.

Find protégés by keeping your eye out for talented people around you to encourage. Look for young people entering your profession, people new or less experienced, or people who are changing careers, as many of us will do over and over. As you rise in your organization or profession, you'll have many opportunities to see who will benefit from your guidance through committees and projects. Advise them in their work and help them with it; don't just tell them they're good. Take time to provide true feedback -- a continuous stream of advice and support. Encourage them to address their own fears, and understand that they might not recognize their own potential yet. Just as work can serve as your family, mentoring gives you a chance at parenthood.

Mentoring is a natural stage in life development. In my research I learned that each successful person was, at an early stage, the apple of someone else's eye. Without that love, success can elude us. Be that eye. Experience the deep gratitude between mentors and their protégés; their successes will become yours to celebrate with them.

Some protégés will rise above us, giving them the ability to pull us up. You never know -- one who you helped can be very helpful to you or your colleagues later. You don't do it opportunistically, but you do it for the love of being a mentor; the benefits will naturally come.

As we ourselves keep progressing, we start the cycle over again -- we learn more skills, practice them until we have mastery of them, and then teach what we have done. If we're creative and courageous, we keep spinning that cycle over and over again. So as we learn something new ourselves we need other mentors, and as we become proficient, we teach that part again to other protégés. Those who have been mentored will step up after having you as a role model, so your behavior is patterned twice and you become the role model for other mentors. In this way, we participate in shaping our chosen profession, a culminating skill. And, just like good mentors, good coaches feel a profound sense of accomplishment.