Being a mentor doesn’t need to be a formal arrangement. It can simply mean that you’ve decided to take someone less experienced than you under your wing and help them grow professionally. In fact, some of the best mentoring relationships develop naturally without ever being officially labeled.
If you know someone who’s relatively inexperienced but smart, driven, and generally awesome, consider acting as an informal mentor and doing the following:
1. Invite them to sit in while you do things—interviews, important meetings, strategy phone calls, and so forth. Talk to them afterward, and explain why you said or did particular things.
2. Talk to them about dilemmas you're facing in your own job. Explain the options you're weighing and the various factors you have to take into consideration, and eventually what you've decided and why. Over time, this will help them start honing their own instincts.
3. Talk to them directly about their goals. Actively look for ways you can help them move toward them. And if they’re not sure what their goals are or should be, help them talk through the options and figure out where they want to go.
4. Give them greater and greater responsibilities. In particular, give them things they're not sure they can handle, and talk them through it. Help them figure out how to tackle it, and afterwards talk over how it went.
5. If you can, give them an intern to manage. Then talk with them regularly about the management challenges that arise and how to handle them—everything from how to feel comfortable exerting authority to addressing careless work to what to say when the intern shows up in flip-flops.
6. Give honest and direct feedback. Tell them where they’re doing well and where they could do better. Having this kind of objective assessment from someone who has their best interests at heart can be hugely valuable.
7. 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 merely average. Help them recognize when they're capable of more.
8. When the time is right, promote them or help them find the next step in their career—even if that means losing them.