Did you know that January is National Mentoring Month? While this initiative mostly involves youth mentorship, we thought it would be the perfect opportunity to discuss mentoring as a whole. After all, being an effective mentor — for anyone at any age — is much more difficult than most people think.
As a mentor, you won’t just offer up your professional advice. You’ll be taking on the role of teacher, coach, counselor, and friend, which is a big responsibility. And that means getting to know enough about your mentee to identify where to push the person to take risks and to aim higher in his or her professional and personal life. Mentorship is all about helping someone seek out the opportunities necessary to grow and excel.
For the best results as a mentor, we suggest you follow these eight steps:
Commit to the relationship
Great mentors take the job of trusted advisor seriously, and that means learning as much as you can about the person you’re counseling. If you don’t put in the time to really understand where that person is in his or her professional and personal life, you can’t expect to become a great mentor. Act as if your career is just as much on the line as your mentee’s.
As a mentor, your main job is to provide advice and encouragement, but you can’t start to do that if you don’t take the time to listen and understand the situation. In fact, you’ll spend a considerable amount of time listening — more so than speaking. Let the person vent and talk through whatever confusion or obstacle he or she is facing. Sometimes, that alone is enough to resolve the problem at hand.
Pose questions, not answers
Sure, your mentee will inevitably come to you for advice, and you never want to withhold your sage wisdom. But the best mentors will ask questions a lot more than provide directions. You see, what worked for one person won’t necessarily work for the next, so you’ll want to guide your mentee with questions like, “What’s getting in your way?” or “What will happen if you take that path?” The goal is lead your protégé toward his or her own insights — teach a man to fish, as they say.
Periodic meetings between yourself and your mentee don’t do much to build any sort of relationship. Your accessibility will make all the difference. Be as available as possible to take a call, meet for coffee, or have an impromptu meeting. You never know when mentee will encounter high-stress challenges or obstacles in the workplace. These are the opportunities to coach and help your protégé learn new skills and navigate a difficult situation.
Keep it honest
It’s easy to tell people what they want to hear, but truly great mentors have the difficult task of telling people what they need to hear. If your mentee has made a bad decision, speak up. Just keep the conversation constructive and feel comfortable sharing what you would’ve done in that same situation. By that same token, you should also feel comfortable sharing mistakes you’ve made. You actually do your mentee a disservice when you stay mum with what you’ve learned from your failings.
All great mentors enter into the mentor-mentee relationship with at least one expectation for what the two parties will achieve together. Is it to develop new skills? Is it to establish a long-range career plan? Does the mentee need help navigating a particular workplace problem? No matter the goal (or goals, really), take the time to set expectations for the relationship and then hold both of you accountable for the parts you’ll play in achieving them.
Open up your network
Introducing your protégé to those who could influence his or her career is another importance facet of being a great mentor — assuming, of course, you believe in your mentee’s abilities. If you know someone who can assist in some way, help make the connection. If, however, you’re not comfortable doing this, you may need to reconsider your relationship. After all, the choice of mentee does say something about the mentor, and the affiliation can affect your reputation.
Know your shelf-life
The mentor-mentee relationship is a little different than most other relationships in that it isn’t meant to last forever — formally speaking, of course. As the two of you work together, there will come a time when you’ll have nothing left to “teach” your mentee. You’ll still keep in touch and offer advice from time to time, but the relationship will have run its course and formal meetings are no longer necessary. Let someone else take up the helm of mentor for your protégé.
There are mentors, and then there are great mentors. If you’re going to guide someone’s career and offer your insights and advice, the latter is where to aim your sights, so invest in the relationship, be as accessible as possible, and truly listen to what your mentee is sharing with you. Only then can you go above and beyond as a mentor.
Looking for a mentor of your own? Check out the tips in this article.