Beyond offering education and being an ideal role model for a group, a leader can also greatly help some employees by serving as a mentor. A leader should be constantly reviewing subordinates for those who can and should advance within the organization. Never fall into the trap of worrying that a bright subordinate will one day eclipse you. The reverse is true: You will be correctly perceived to be an excellent leader when you demonstrate the ability to debut first-rate proteges. The group member who would respond well to a mentoring is not difficult to spot. You’re looking for employees who continually surpass marks set by others, employees who think outside the box and are not afraid of sharing innovative ideas.

For example, John heads up a large unit in a midsized company. He’s responsible for over 20 employees, directly and indirectly. His unit is known for high-quality work, which he attributes to a dedicated group of employees who pull together as a team. However, lately he’s noticed that one employee, Laura, has pulled ahead of the pack. Laura innovates, works long hours without complaint, and patiently helps other team members who frequently come to her for help. John is convinced Laura would respond well to mentoring.

Plain English : mentor is usually a person of higher rank or standing in an organization who takes a particular interest in helping to nurture, teach, and guide a promising employee.

mentor can be an incredible help to a developing employee. Much like the apprenticeship relationship in days of old, a seasoned, successful leader can impart significant on-the-job knowledge to the protégé.

A successful mentor fulfills the following roles for the protégé:

  • Coach. 
    A mentor must remain in close contact with the protégé to help him or her learn fine distinctions in day-to-day business dealings. This continual advice helps the protégé develop skills that would otherwise take years to acquire through trial and error.
  • Challenges. 
    A mentor will continually find new and exciting work for the protégé to perform. The challenges help the proteg learn new skills and learn how to handle responsibility.
  • Constant feedback.
    Once you engage in a mentoring relationship, it is critical to provide constant feedback to your protégé.
  • Support. 
    The mentor must be prepared for successes as well as failures from a protégé. Try to be there to encourage your protégé to learn from the failures and get past them.
  • Protection. 
    In a fast-paced and competitive environment, a mentor can also run interference for the protégé, protecting him or her from hostile or difficult high-level managers or situations.
  • Promotion. 
    As a mentor, you are required to help advertise the merits of your protégé. Let your peers and superiors know how much faith you have in your protégé and what a great future you predict for him. This could help your protégé to be promoted or win increased respect from a wider audience.

Caution : So you’ve found a worthy protégé, and now you want to dedicate most of your time to coaching that person. Be careful! The rest of your team could suffer a loss in quality as a result of resentment. To alleviate this, choose more than one protégé, or pair some junior employees with more senior members of the staff for their own mentoring relationships.