Much fuss is made about the lack of work ethic and apathy of Generation Y, but I don’t know where people get their data because I see smart, connected, proactive and helpful young adults who are thirsty to make a difference in the world everywhere that I turn.
Old models of mentorship involve long, in-person lunches and extensive planning meetings at the office. Not only is this not practical if you are a busy entrepreneur, it doesn’t fit the work style of young people. They communicate with mobile applications, are constantly on the go, and need just-in-time information as they grow their business.
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Here the 10 ways to mentor in the 21st century:
1. Do a quick Skype chat. Five minutes of chatting over Skype can accomplish more than hours spent reviewing details over email. Keep your Skype open while you work and invite your mentee to ask you for quick feedback.
2. Make an introduction over Twitter. When you make a public introduction on Twitter, you not only use your time efficiently, you indicate to your followers that you respect and value your mentee. For example, “@w_buffett, when you are in New York, you should meet up with @ramit.”
3. Text a message of encouragement. Know when your mentee is about to do something scary and give her a virtual boost with a text message. For example, “I have total confidence that you will leave them screaming for more at your presentation today. Go get em!”
4. Give a free pass to all of your educational programs. If you deliver classes or seminars as part of your business, give free access to your mentee. They will eat up the information and suggest how to make it more accessible to the mobile generation. For example, when I delivered a talk at a Phoenix Entrepreneurship Conference that Matt Butson attended on scholarship as an ASU student, he mocked up a web version of the Life Plan that I discussed in my presentation.
5. Profile them on your blog. When you are young, hungry and talented, you just need exposure. If you have a relevant way to work your mentee into an article or blog post, do it.
6. Invite them to shadow you. The best way to show someone what it takes to be successful in your field is for them to see you in action. They may watch you sweat out a twenty-four-hour coding frenzy as you finish a software product (and to reciprocate the favor, they can get you fresh Red Bulls on the hour). Or you may invite them to watch you deliver a keynote presentation at a large event.
7. Share your best tools. I have sent copies of my book proposal to young aspiring authors to give them a head start on creating their own. Share templates, tools and shortcuts for getting work done. The more they get the basics covered, the more they will think about innovating their business, or growing their market.
8. Invite critique and feedback about your business. You have blind spots about they way you run your business. Invite candid input and get tons of great ideas. You will also teach your mentee how to give constructive feedback, which is a critical skill for business success.
9. Do brief random check-in calls. We all have moments when we are delayed at an airport or we are waiting for our tires to be rotated. Take 10 or 15 minutes to call your mentee and check in. If they don’t answer, just leave a voicemail with encouraging words. They will feel good that you are thinking about them.
10. Love them like an uncle or aunt. One of the hard parts of being a young person is self-doubt and insecurity. Not everyone has a supportive family circle. An occasional “You are an amazing young woman and I am proud to know you” or “Well done, son!” are very important parts of cultivating strength and security in your mentee. Love with healthy boundaries is a vital ingredient in any business relationship.
Just as not everyone is an ideal client, not everyone is an ideal mentee. The more you can define the specific characteristics of the young person you want to help, the more likely the relationship will be productive for both of you. Are you interested in someone with extensive technical background that lacks business or communication skills? Are you interested in mentoring a particular demographic such as young women, Native Americans or recent immigrants?
Mentoring young people has been a consistent part of my business model since I started my company 14 years ago. It has guaranteed that my skills stay sharp, my slang stays current, my tweets fly across mobile phones, and that the market of tomorrow will know, like, and trust me. If nothing else, another way to look at the value of mentoring is that they will be caring for you when you are no longer willing or able to work. Heed my warning: Ignore the next generation at your own peril. If you mentor the next generation, you can ensure that you have a future market.
Pamela Slim is a business coach, speaker, and author of Escape from Cubicle Nation: From Corporate Prisoner to Thriving Entrepreneur (Penguin/Portfolio, May 2009). You can read also read her blog and follower her on Twitter at PamSlim.