There are a lot of things happening every day to increase our fear of something bad happening to us. Some are very real issues while others can be highly questionable. For example, some people fear falling ill with a serious disease. Not as many people (I hope) fear sailing off the edge of the Earth because it is flat. 
 
I have been mentoring people for over 30 years. I have witnessed some amazing results through mentorship. If asked, most people will respond with a positive story about how a mentor helped them in their past. So why do more people not offer themselves as mentors to others? In my experience, it gets down to three things: time investment, vulnerability and fear. 
 
The time commitment issue should be the least of your worries when looking at mentoring someone. There are several ways to “make time” for mentoring. Many mentors I know find lunch discussions to be a great time for mentoring. For those who have a very full schedule, lunch mentor sessions offer a defined amount of time with an imposed ending to the meeting. There is less of an issue in closing out the meeting when the food has been eaten and the table cleared. I know others who, in advance of a mentor meeting, impose a strict time limit on a first meeting. They tell the potential mentee that they have a set number of minutes, usually 30 to 60, and ask the mentee to focus on what they want to get out of a mentor-mentee relationship. As a mentor, the clock belongs to you. Take ownership of the meeting’s schedule and keep the mentee on subject. I have a simple question I ask when I think the mentee is not focused. I ask, “How can I help?” It is a powerful question that holds the mentee accountable to state specific needs.
 
Vulnerability is rarely mentioned but often felt by mentors. By mentoring, you are putting yourself out there. Many people who mentor may look confident on the outside but do not feel confident on the inside. Mentors often question themselves concerning their value to the potential mentee. In my experience, it is our ability as mentors to ask questions that help the mentee, not answer questions. Once I have gotten to know a mentee, I make it a point to ask direct questions. For example, “Can you list your first 10 customers by name?” This is a much better way to ask who the mentee’s market is and a much better way to focus the conversation on steps to be taken next. Be careful to not let a direct question linger into a forceful or challenging question. Try to ask from a position of curiosity. 
 
For many mentors there is a fine line between vulnerability and fear. Not all mentor-mentee meetings go well. I make a habit of having my first meeting with a new mentee in a very public place, oftentimes a coffee shop. This provides a level of comfort to both mentor and mentee. It also helps relieve pressure that is often present in a closed meeting room or office. Given the current issues we face, it is more important than ever to protect both the mentor and the mentee from situations that cause discomfort or worse. I fear proving advice that will cause harm. It is very easy to make suggestions to a mentee and then “fall in love” with the suggestion. I sometimes find myself pushing my recommendations onto a mentee. Human nature makes this hard to avoid. Anytime I start offering specific advice, I let the mentee know I may be wrong. I tell a short story of a situation when I was spectacularly wrong. For me it was when I first discovered Google at a computer trade show in the very early 2000s. They did not make a good first impression on me. Yahoo was at the front of the convention hall with a booth that cost more than my house. Google was at the back and their booth looked like a folding table. I walked away saying to myself Google would never make it.  

Mentoring is critical to the success and growth of companies of all sizes and, more importantly, to the people working in those companies. Do not let fear, vulnerability or time stand in your way of mentoring someone. The satisfaction you will derive from these sessions will likely invigorate you and provide a new source of satisfaction in your life. The Greater Des Moines Partnership recently launched a web-based tool for those wanting to mentor and those looking for mentors. We can show that these fears are unfounded by creating more opportunities for mentors and mentees alike. Sign up now to be a mentor or find a mentor. Start here: dsmpartnership.com/mentorconnection