Why Boomers Make the Best Mentors


Being a good mentor not only makes sense from a pay-it-forward point of view, it also makes good business sense. Boomers have all the right ingredients to successfully mentor younger professionals to become successful leaders in their own right. Boomers have what it takes to seed and perpetuate the value they have gained through years of experience. In fact, as Boomers, it is both one of our greatest opportunities, as well as one of our greatest responsibilities, to pass on what we’ve learned. But what is the right way to do it?

Mentorship begins with a number of key steps. Dick Stieren is following these steps to mentor a younger employee to succeed him in his small business, a Window Genie cleaning and maintenance service franchise in Omaha, NE.

Dick has spent his entire career in the franchise business world, as a corporate executive for Burger King, where he supervised 30 franchisees, and then as a Burger King franchisee himself. For seventeen years after selling his franchise, he worked as a consultant in the industry, solving problems and leading projects for various brands and franchisees across the country, and around the world. He developed some lasting relationships through those great experiences, but ultimately decided it was time to focus closer to home. He went looking for another franchise to own, and settled on Window Genie, a young company with an entrepreneurial spirit.

Starting a franchise in his sixties was far different from starting a franchise in his forties, and Dick knew right off the bat that he wanted to create a succession plan for his new business. When he met Wade Jenson, a 21-year decorated Marine Corps veteran, he knew he had found the right guy to mentor. Too often, he says, franchisees don’t plan ahead, and fail to put a succession plan in place to protect the business. For the past two years, Dick has been mentoring Wade to take over the franchise, and couldn’t be happier with how it’s going. Here are six tips for mentors like Dick who are looking to pass on their learning and their wisdom to younger professionals.

1. Guide and Counsel.
The best mentors are not teachers in the classic sense. Rather than try to direct mentees on what to do, it is better to share your own lessons and information and let them come to their own conclusions. Dick is finding that this technique is working well with his successor, Wade, who appreciates the space Dick is giving him to learn.

2. Be a Role Model.
Leading by example is always the strongest motivator for a mentor. Use your confidence to inspire your mentee to achieve the same level of mastery and equanimity you have earned, without having to force them into it. Once again, Dick’s significant experience throughout all phases of the franchise field give him the ability to just “be” the perfect role model.

3. Share.
Be generous with what you know, and who you know. Relationships and networking can be a significant asset to a younger professional, and Dick is making his considerable contacts available to Wade as he grows into his leadership role.

4. Be Strategic.
A mentee will likely not see the full picture of the business the way you see it, so be on the lookout for ways of helping them to shortcut some of the lessons that it took you years to learn. They’ll have plenty of time to learn their own lessons (and pass those on to their mentee), so don’t withhold information based on the mistaken notion that they need to make the same mistakes you did in order to learn.

5. Be Available.
A good mentor needs to be fully committed to the task. This includes being available, but not just in terms of your time. You need to be personally available, which means being open, vulnerable and transparent. The best learning occurs through the ability of both mentor and mentee to let their guard down. If your mentee is going to be successful, they’re going to need to feel comfortable enough to share their concerns and fears, as well as their dreams and ambitions. Leading the way by showing them that it’s OK to talk about these things is the hallmark of a true mentor.

6. Be Prepared.
Don’t just expect that the learning process is going to take place by itself, and don’t expect your mentee to know which questions to ask. Draw up an outline for what you want to impart to your mentee, and refer to the outline as opportunities come up for sharing that information.

If mentoring is imparting the sum of our experience in a consistent, supportive and nurturing manner, then Boomers are the ideal mentors. We have sufficient mileage to really appreciate the value of the journey, and not be driven by ego or judgment. We’ve seen success work from many angles, so our wisdom helps us tailor our mentorship in the most appropriate and effective way, ensuring a more resonant and enduring experience for our mentee.

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John Tarnoff is a career transition coach, speaker and best-selling author who helps late-career professionals transition to meaningful second-act careers beyond traditional retirement.

Following a successful career as a Hollywood film executive and tech entrepreneur, he reinvented his own career at 50, earning a master’s degree in Spiritual Psychology to focus on professional development and training.

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