“Standing on the shoulders of giants” was how Isaac Newton described the foundation of his world-changing achievements. Similar success in business happens the same way. Innovation is built on the work of one’s predecessors, and as leaders watch the younger generation come into their own, it becomes clear that imparting what you’ve learned over the years will pave the way for their future success. If someone as prolific as Isaac Newton stood on the shoulders of giants, then the individual who conceives the next groundbreaking advancement will likely also need a helping hand to reach great heights.
Being successful in business simply means having experience, knowledge, and the ability to pass that on to others, primarily through mentorship. Here are some ways that you can offer your shoulders to the next generation of leaders as a mentor.
Support your student through constructive criticism
Being positive and supportive of your mentee is the basis of a mentor’s job, but don’t let that steer you away from correcting mistakes and noticing areas of improvement. It’s never easy to hear that you’re doing something wrong, and mentors have the difficult task of pointing out shortcomings without offending their mentee. But of course, if you avoid giving feedback, your mentee will never improve.
Focusing solely on the negatives is what can make this endeavor difficult. It’s possible to balance your feedback with positive notes on their performance, or by relating to your own experiences with learning and making mistakes. The goal is to let your mentee know that your goal is simply to help them improve — once they understand that, they’re likely to be open and receptive to your suggestions.
Let your mentee do things on their own
As valuable as it is for a mentor to dole out all the advice they’ve accumulated, it’s important to recognize your mentee as an independent and capable individual. For instance, they might be faced with a difficult decision, and your input will put them on the right path — but can a mentee truly spread their wings if they’re always being told what to do?
Giving your mentee more freedom and autonomy demonstrates that you trust them enough to make their own decisions and think for themselves, and is a way to build a mentee’s confidence. As the relationship develops, mentors should act as a safety net of sorts, allowing their mentees to try, fail, and learn without fear of impactful consequences. Failure can provide excellent opportunities for you to then lend insight, but it also provides a wonderful opportunity for a mentee to discover for themselves what failure means and how to move forward from it. As marketing specialist and venture capitalist Guy Kawasaki has said, “Ambitious failure, magnificent failure, is a very good thing.”
Remember that mentoring is about human connection
“Everyone talks about building a relationship with your customer. I think you should build one with your employees first,” said Angela Ahrendts, former CEO of Burberry and senior vice-president of retail at Apple. At the end of the day, mentoring is about forming a connection and starting a positive relationship with another individual or employee, one that can be far more beneficial in the long-run than a client relationship. It’s a given that a mentor relationship works best when the mentee is completely comfortable to be themselves, to make mistakes, and to learn. The various avenues for teaching your mentee — like constructive criticism and granting independence — are made effective through a strong bond between a mentor and mentee. Exhibiting traits like empathy and authenticity in your interactions takes the mentorship from a professional relationship to a personal one, forging a deep bond that is highly conducive to a mentee’s personal and career growth.
There are a number of benefits that mentors themselves gain through this relationship, such as new perspectives, and can experience similar career growth: one study showed that about 20 percent of both mentors and mentees were more likely to receive raises than those who didn’t participate in mentoring. Mentors were six times as likely to receive a promotion than their peers, and mentees were five times as likely to receive a promotion as well.
When all is said and done, mentoring is a highly valuable resource for all parties involved. And who knows? Perhaps through participating in a mentorship, you’ll be responsible for helping a young individual bring about the same monumental changes that Newton did years ago, by offering your shoulders as a giant of business.