The 8 Best Ways to Mentor Someone

How to help someone with terrific potential develop professionally

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Alison Green
There's little at work that is more satisfying than spotting someone who's relatively inexperienced but smart, driven, and generally awesome—and then helping that person develop professionally. I think it's one of the most rewarding things about managing people (second only to having the power to make things run well rather than being at the mercy of an ineffective manager).

If you have some great but inexperienced people on your staff, consider taking them under your wing and doing the following:

  • Invite them to sit in while you do things—interviews, important meetings, whatever. Talk to them afterward, and point out why you did particular things.
  • Talk to them about dilemmas you're facing in your own job. Tell them the options you're weighing and the various factors you have to take into consideration—and eventually what you're deciding and why. If you do this enough, over time, they'll start honing their own instincts.
  • Give these people greater and greater responsibilities. Give them things they're not sure they can handle, and talk them through it. Help them figure out their approach, and talk over how it went afterward.
  • If you can, give them an intern to manage. Talk regularly about the management challenges that arise and how to handle them—everything from feeling comfortable being in a position of authority to addressing sloppy work to what to say when the intern shows up in flip-flops.
  • Talk to them directly about their goals. Actively look for ways you can help them move toward them.l Give honest and direct feedback.
  • Give them the confidence to take on more by making sure you tell them how great they are. Early in their career, outstanding people tend to think they're average. Help them recognize when they're capable of more.
  • When the time is right, promote them or help them find the next step in their career—even if that means losing them.
  • Alison Green is chief of staff for a medium-sized nonprofit where she oversees day-to-day management of the staff as well as hiring, firing, and staff development. She is working with the Management Center to coauthor a book on nonprofit management. Her writings have been published in the Washington Post, the New York Times, Maxim, and dozens of other newspapers. She blogs at Ask a Manager.