Fostering Excellence
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Five Things Every Mentor Should Do

 Most of us at some point have been the beneficiary of a great mentor, someone who showed us the ropes and took the time to develop us. Without that mentor we might not have been as successful as we have been. Mentors are critical to move teams forward when their organization experiences turnover or when they expand their workforce. Becoming a mentor is something that every professional should aspire to be. If you are a point in your career where you feel you could be that mentor to someone else, maybe it’s time to pay it forward.

As a busy and successful professional, adding the additional responsibility of being a mentor can make your juggling act even harder. Moreover, there are best practices to employ in order to be the best possible mentor. Here are some good reminders of what you should do to help your mentee thrive:
Create a development plan – Getting organized and mapping out with your mentee a development path is critical. Together you can identify training and experiential gaps, and then make a plan to fill him. Knowing in advance what you will work on together can go a long way in using your limited time most effectively. Involving the mentee when creating the plan engenders their buy-in and ownership.

Let them shadow you – Let your mentee see how you ‘make the sausage.’ Allowing them to shadow you for a week or even just a day can be a powerful developmental experience. Your mentee can see the back-story to many of your critical decisions, watch you prioritize your tasks, and see the tricks of the trade that have made you so successful. This can also fill in the gaps of your development plan as many adhoc tasks or situations will occur during your day, but may not make it into the development plan.

Build social capital - Go out to lunch with your mentee, or share some water cooler time together-build that social capital! Adding the social dimension to your professional relationship will break down barriers and allow for more open discussions about your mentee’s development as well as your own career path. Importantly, it will help you feel more open to your mentee to discuss your own career mistakes so you can help him or her avoid them.

Follow up – A great mentor always gives her mentee projects to work on, or training to complete. Following up with your mentee will be critical to their success. Following up will help you quickly indentify barriers to your mentee completing the tasks, empowering you to remove them. It can also communicate a powerful message to your mentee – the tasks you have assigned are important! (not just busy work) You also communicate that you care about your mentee’s success.

Be Available – This is the simplest but often the most difficult aspect of being a good mentor. You are mentor because you have been successful, and because you are successful, you are commensurately busy. It is easy to become so immersed in your professional tasks that you forget to make time for your mentee. Involving them in your projects can not only allow you to be there for your mentee, it can provide them development opportunities and it can offset your time spent mentoring. Let them help you!  

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Being a mentor will probably be one of the most important things you do for your profession. Growing the next generation of successful professionals in your field prepares the field to continue to be successful and impactful while allowing you to individually ‘pay it forward’ for all the mentoring you received early on in your career.

Michael Farr, PMP, is a Chief Master Sergeant in the U.S. Air Force and founder of He is passionate about recognition and enabling professionals to motivate their organizations through recognizing their member’s excellence. When he is not slaying dragons with his kids, he can be found at @fosterxcellence on Twitter and @fosteringexcellence on Facebook.