Though you see its head popping up in a lot of modern business literature, the concept of mentoring has been around forever. In fact, the actual term comes from Greek mythology: When Odysseus left for the Trojan War he placed his old friend Mentor in charge of his son, Telemachus.
If you've been asked to mentor someone, or have just decided to take someone under your wing, you're in a great position to make a difference in someone's life. You have the opportunity to provide your expertise to someone less experienced in order to help him in his career. But here are some pitfalls to avoid:
1. Don't micromanage. At a place I used to work, part of my job was to travel to software companies and "sell" them on the value of the software newsletters my company produced. When I first started doing this, my boss, who was an artist at "making the deal," used to meticulously go over the sales pitch with me, even to the point of giving me the exact words to say. I remember sitting on airplanes, hearing him say, "They're going to say this, then you'll say..." The problem was, I needed to learn how to think on my feet not memorize speeches.
2. Don't try to prevent all mistakes. It's tempting to try to anticipate every mistake that could happen and help your protégé plan around it. It's good to prevent the big mistakes, but you have to let him experience some mistakes. Mistakes, though momentarily painful, are learning devices. What he learns from making mistakes will stay with him forever.
3. Don't try to create a clone. [See point number 1]. You want to give this person the benefit of your experience, but you also must be open to the unique perspectives and talents he brings to the table.
Here's a piece TechRepublic published on how to make a mentoring program work.
Toni Bowers is the former Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.