The nature of a mentorship is a pretty simple one: someone with more experience helps someone with less experience learn, grow, and progress. That relationship in the professional world has been shown to be beneficial to mentees, companies, and mentors, alike. It’s why 71% of Fortune 500 companies employ some form of mentorship program. Pairing “proteges” with experienced employees in a structured manner improves employee engagement and retention, giving you a “strong bench” of employees, thereby improving the resilience of your business.
Having a strong bench works within the microcosm of your own team as well. It creates flexibility for your team, helping improve internal growth opportunities for members, which in turn drives loyalty and engagement.
In some ways you should be a mentor to all of your direct reports, helping them perform their best and continuously learn. Being involved in this way keeps you aware of what’s going on at the lower levels, which helps you be a better leader.
There is, however, a special mentor-mentee relationship that you should consider developing, and that is grooming your replacement. If you’re hoping to make professional moves, this can be one of the strongest programs to develop with one or more people directly underneath you.
Why? You will:
To get started, you should first pause and ponder on a couple of ideas: (1) whether you should be grooming your replacement and (2) what skills you have or need to develop in order to be successful as a mentor.
This takes a little bit of foresight, as grooming someone for leadership does not happen overnight. And putting someone into a leadership position without proper preparation comes with the definite risk of failure. At minimum, you should plan for 1 month--and more ideally 3-6 months--before a new leader might be asked to step up. This could be because of personal role changes you plan for yourself, goals for your own promotion, or if the company is growing rapidly enough that there may be a need for a second person to help with the load.
This list doubles as your own development plan. If you find yourself short in any characteristic, either takes steps before you begin to improve that skill or verbalize to your mentee at the beginning of the relationship that you’ll be working on yourself at the same time.
While the purpose of grooming is to develop certain skills, you should also be selective with who you are selecting for this program. The right candidates should show certain characteristics that identify them as being right for becoming a mentee and with the potential to become strong leaders.
Pulling from the same source, here’s a good quick summary of qualities that make a good mentee:
Not only do your candidates need to be well-suited to be mentored, but they should also show the potential to become good leaders by the end of it. Employees that show these characteristics have the potential to become strong leaders:
Once you’ve got your candidates, it’s time to start the mentorship. This begins with defining the relationship and then sticking to the plan.
At the start, there needs to be a discussion to lay out the vision, SMART goals, and expectations of the process. How often will you meet? What are appropriate topics to discuss? What should be considered public versus private knowledge?
Using the skills of great leaders, identify which skills need work and which are already strong. Obviously, the point is to develop those skills that are lacking. Based on these skills, identify methods/strategies of improvement as well as benchmarks of success.
The nature of leadership is that you need to manage many things at once. And the benefit of starting this mentorship months before a real need for a new leader develops is that they can take on bite-size pieces at a time and adjust to them before taking on a new responsibility. This does not mean these responsibilities are off your plate. This is why this process will take more of your time and energy (at least to start). You are still the one responsible for results, but now the responsibility is doubled because you are responsible for two sets of results: those of your team and now those of your protege.
Both you, the mentee, and the program itself will need constant observation, open criticism, and tweaks to continue improving. Ask for direct feedback from your mentee. Maybe you yourself have a mentor or superior that’s invested in this program, so keep them informed and elicit feedback from them.
Once your protege is prepped and willing to step into your shoes in an official manner, great! And when you are no longer indispensable in your current role, double great! This means you are ready to make your own moves.
You have to “ask for the business” as they say on the sales floor. Make sure your direct manager is the first to know and try to get them to become an evangelist for you. Make your career goals and interests known. Do you want to continue advancing in leadership roles or make a horizontal move?
This does not mean to go shout from the rooftops that you’re leaving and your protege is taking your place. There will still be a process to follow and, by the way, your company may choose to hire someone externally or even a different person internally.
However, if you’ve invested the time and energy and have tangible proof to show of your protege’s capabilities, it makes thee decisions much easier. The best way to do this is to have your superior involved and aware of your plans and the purpose of the mentorship from the beginning.
Mentoring a replacement for yourself is both selfish and selfless. The concept here is to free yourself from indispensability so that you are not locked into your current position. If you are looking to make vertical or horizontal professional moves, consider identifying a good candidate to replace you at least a few months before your desired changes.
Not only will you free yourself up, but you will also undoubtedly improve and showcase the leadership skills that identify you as a good candidate to make those moves. So go forth and mentor!