“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to celebrate this thing called leadership.” And when I think about a leader, I picture someone who actively mentors others. I’m not referring to their subordinates (the leader’s job demands support of them), but up-and-comers who are seeking guidance, advice, and focus.
The leader does not directly gain from aiding these promising talents. Sure, it might help build the leader’s legacy and expand their network, but the intent of taking on a protégée it not meant for personal gain. For a prime example, look no further than Prince.
I don’t need to tell you much about Prince. He’s been on the forefront of popular music for almost forty years, sold over 40 million, earned 50 Hot 100 singles, and recently released his 38th album, HITNRUN. In addition to being a juggernaut of quality music, Prince has always been eager to nurture the careers of gifted musicians. Here are three things we can all do to be more like Prince.
Prince can proficiently play a few dozen instruments, yet when talking about Esperanza Spalding, a four-time Grammy winning jazz musician, Prince said,
I thought I could play bass until I met her. Not even close! [Laughs] She just kills it, man.
Many people in Prince’s position would not be so forthcoming with such a generous compliment—when you’re at the top of the mount, why lower yourself to a lower level—however being a mentor begins with this sense of humility. You need to be willing to help people who have the potential of being better than you.
Arrogance and an excessive ego will lead you to choose protégées who are geared to become more like lackeys than individual contributors. Humility, on the other hand, will ensure that you are guiding others towards the direction they want to go, not building mini-me’s. You, therefore, provide practical value through a path of self-discovery.
Ability to recognize talent
Prince has a long history of encouraging the careers of others—Sheena Easton, Sheila E., Vanity, etc. When he’s interested in a musician’s work, Prince will often invite them to his home in Minneapolis to jam or just hang out. Recently, he found a talented performer on Instagram named Golden Hippie. She has since appeared on Prince’s album Art Official Age.
I like young energy. If there’s a big mess, you can bet an old person did it.
Finding high-potentials is not easy; one study found that top tier employees constitute only 3-5% of a company’s talent. To identify you next mentee:
Get introspective. Ask yourself: What do I have to offer? Determine your strengths and how you can best provide support for a future superstar.
Define criteria. Figure out what makes someone a high-potential. What qualities, characteristics, skills, and abilities are you looking for in a protégée?
Make it measureable. With your skill set and the criteria you’ve selected in a protégée, you can now identify and select your next candidate.
Willingness to put others at center stage
When Prince was asked about the process of developing his latest album, he could have waxed on about the way he creates a song or how this album stands out from his last. Instead, Prince said,
I don’t need to be more famous. I want you to write about Josh [Welton, Prince’s producer], so that one day when he’s producing Beyonce’s next record you can say, ‘I was on that.’
This is the essence of being a mentor, an unselfish desire to promote someone else. If you accept your role as a mentor, then you are accepting your responsibility to push others into your spotlight. They may reciprocate with the public recognition you deserve, but this would just be a nice bonus. You are doing it because that is what a great mentor does.
Not every leader is a mentor, but every mentor is a leader. You may have missed the boat on being the Prince of the music world, but it’s not too late to become the Prince of your world. Use your experience and expertise to take on a protégée. It is personally rewarding and will make the doves cry with tears of joy.