Great team leaders raise the skill level of people around them. There are so many ways to do this – team presentations, sharing articles, demonstrations, etc. Mentoring is one of the most personal and powerful ways of developing individuals on your teams. Unfortunately, this term gets tossed around freely without really understanding it.

To the Wikipedia!

Here’s what Wikipedia says:

Mentoring is a process for the informal transmission of knowledge, social capital, and the psychosocial support perceived by the recipient as relevant to work, career, or professional development; mentoring entails informal communication, usually face-to-face and during a sustained period of time, between a person who is perceived to have greater relevant knowledge, wisdom, or experience (the mentor) and a person who is perceived to have less (the protégé)”

Knowledge. Social Capital. Psychosocial Support. Mentoring is not just teaching. It’s not lecturing or demonstrating.

Let’s just be frank

You are not mentoring if you’re: criticizing, doing, judging, scolding, arguing. The goal is not to claim your throne as supreme master of knowledge and make others feel bad. The goal is not to make others do things “your way.”

As a mentor you should be asking questions and guiding others to answers. You’re building skills as well as the inherent desire to apply those skills. You should want this person to become a mentor themselves – to grow others on your team.

Ask yourself this

Are the individuals that you are mentoring only doing what you want because they are scared of you or want to avoid confrontation? If you left today, would the process or behavior cease? If you answered yes to either of these then you’re not mentoring.

Empower others

People want to be great. If you’re in a leadership position – and let’s be honest, we’re all leaders – make the time and emotional investments to help others be great. I guarantee you’ll also grow as part of the experience.

There’s a place for mentoring and there’s a place for lecturing or instructing. Be aware of which role you’re playing.

Update Jan 28 2015
Harvard Business Review has a great article with advice on how to avoid some common mentoring mistakes