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Critical Principles for Mentoring the Next Generation

Mentorship is crucial for the next generation of leaders. Whether the younger generation is being groomed to take over a family business or simply graduate into a leadership position at a closely held or public company, the knowledge and wisdom of the current generation is imperative to the younger generation’s success. I have found in my work, however, that many mentor-mentee relationships suffer from a variety of roadblocks, leaving both mentor and mentee frustrated and disenfranchised.

The generational divide is often the main driver of poor mentor-mentee relationships. Every generation has its own views, its own desires and its own theory on how the world should work. For many mentor-mentee relationships, this becomes a sticking point. The younger generation – particularly Millennials – have a very different view of work than the Baby Boomers or even Generation X. The younger generation desires more work-life balance than the older generation. While the older generation is accustomed to working long hours, the younger generation relies increasingly on technology to shoulder some of the workload, allowing them to pursue interests outside of work.

Neither view is right or wrong – but each generation tends to dig their heels in on their position, which can lead to resentment and mistrust. To build and maintain a fruitful mentorship, there are some basic principles you should follow as a mentor.

Align Your Goals

Determine what each party wants from the mentorship relationship and ensure that each party’s goals for the relationship are aligned. This will help avoid miscommunication and head-butting as the relationship progresses. While the mentor and mentee may have different ideas of how to run the business, they both want the business to succeed. Aligning relationship goals will help both parties see the “big picture.”

Make Your Expectations Clear

I can’t tell you how many times as a family business consultant I have seen resentment emerge in mentoring relationships based on expectations not being met. Nine times out of ten the expectations were never made clear, keeping at least one party completely clueless about what is going on.

If you expect your mentee to work a 50-hour week instead of a 40-hour week, make it clear. If you expect something to be done by a certain date and time, make it clear. Be specific. Making your expectations clear will help you avoid growing resentment and clarify the role of each person in the relationship.

Treat the Mentorship Like a Business

Too often, I see mentorships suffer because they are treated as unimportant to leadership development. Mentors and mentees will cancel meetings regularly and give little priority to the relationship. Mentorships should be treated like a business. Don’t make excuses. Don’t cancel meetings. Treat your mentee as if he or she were a client. Your mentorship meeting might not make that big sale by the end of the month, but make no mistake – it is crucial to the future of your business.

Take a Comprehensive Approach

Mentorships aren’t just about teaching the next generation how the business works. Use the time together to talk about strategy, tactics, and philosophy. If the mentee has a new idea on how to improve the business, talk about it in depth, don’t just write it off.

Look at the mentorship from every angle – how can you help the mentee emotionally as well as strategically? You want your mentee to be both competent and confident before they are ready to take the reins.

Learn How to Execute a Smooth Succession.

Get to Know Your Mentee on a Deeper Level

In my work as a family business consultant, I often see mentorships fail because the mentor thinks they know their mentee (a family member) as well as they can already. This is almost never the case. No matter how close you may be with your kids, there is plenty they don’t tell you (trust me). If your mentor is your child or another younger family member, treat them as if they were someone you never met. Call them by their first name ­– and have them do the same with you.

Give Mentees a Chance to Prove Themselves

The younger generation has new ideas that the older generation doesn’t always agree with. Your mentee may believe that he or she can get the job done in less time, giving them more free time. You may grumble about their lack of work ethic. Don’t. Instead, give them a chance to prove their theory. Assign your mentee a project and let them do it their way, then see what the result is. You might be surprised!

Give It Time

A successful mentorship takes time.  Commit to at least a year and set real, quantifiable leadership development goals. Be fluid as well – modify the relationship and the goals as your mentorship relationship progresses. Create a safe environment where your mentee can open up and be honest about their worries and fears. Never write them off or disrespect them. A good mentorship is based on good communication. Always keep the lines of communication open – and keep an open mind about the next generation. Their progress will ultimately decide the fate of your business going forward.

Ready to take the next step in mentoring the future leaders of your company? Contact us today for a personalized consultation.

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