Servant Mentorship

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I am pleased to share my latest post to The SHRM Blog.

Almost everyone recognizes how important mentoring is. I don’t know anyone who is successful who did not have at least one good mentor. I know I am grateful for mine.

Similarly, I don’t know any good leaders who don’t mentor to some degree. It is more than a mark of a good leader; the mentoring makes the leader stronger by what he or she learns from the mentee.

Of course, people define mentoring differently. It should be more than showing someone the ropes or sharing inside baseball.

A good mentor should have a vested interest in helping his or her mentee succeed. Yes, I recognize that this definition begins to bleed into sponsorship as many define it.

However, I believe the line between mentorship and sponsorship can be somewhat artificial. In my views, the best mentorships include a sponsorship component. The term I use is “servant mentorship.”

One way that mentors can sponsor mentees is by opening doors for them. “I can’t do this but I think this would be a great opportunity for you.”

In these cases, the mentor feels good about the opportunity that he or she has provided. While this may benefit the mentee too, the mentor is benefiting by having someone safe do what he or she cannot.

Don’t get me wrong. That’s not a bad thing. But it’s not as wonderful as it may make the mentor feel.

For me, the best test as to whether someone is a servant mentor is whether they lean back so their mentee can lean in. That means giving up an opportunity for the mentee so that he or she can grow.

“I can do this, but I think you would be great. If you want it, it’s yours.”

Mentees know the difference. And, I believe, they respond in kind.

Opening a door for someone when you cannot walk in is not “servant mentorship.” Not walking in the door when you can but sending your mentee instead is.

Next month I will be giving my monthly slot to a mentee. Thank you to SHRM for joining me in service mentorship.

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