So you want to be a mentor...

Wed 06 Jun

What does it take to be a great mentor?

Mentoring is about helping a colleague learn. It’s the practice of transferring knowledge and promoting best practices in the workplace, and it can be an effective way to develop leadership qualities. 

At its core, being a mentor is being a trusted advisor. Good mentors do not take their responsibility lightly, but feel invested in the success of the mentee. 

In an article for Harvard Business Review, Venture Capitalist Anthony T. Khan wrote about three types of mentors:

1. Peer Mentors, who focus on helping with specific skills, working toward specific goals, and basic organization practices for how to get things done.

2. Career Mentors, who are senior to their mentees and whose purpose is to serve as a career advisor and advocate.

3. Life Mentors, who are usually outside of the workplace and serve as an objective sounding board for long-term goals and desires.

Whichever mentor you are – and you may find yourself becoming more than one of the three types depending on your mentee – here are some tips to getting it right.

Establish expectations

Upon first being introduced to your mentee, explain your role and answer any questions they may have about the process.  This is the time to point out what you expect of them and explain what you’re prepared to do for them.

Be interested

This type of relationships is a personal one. While you can give advice without really knowing a person, to stand out as an amazing mentor, you're going to have to get to know your mentee on a personal level.  Ask them about themselves and be interested in the answers – at the very least it will put the mentee at ease with what can be a daunting process.

Perform a needs assessment

What are the mentee’s priorities in meeting with you? Which aspects of their job or career do they want to know about most? What areas are they hoping to improve in? These types of questions can set solid groundwork for the mentorship.

Never assume

Good mentors recognize it's their responsibility to break through common assumptions by digging deeper. Don’t assume anything about your mentee, even if you’ve been briefed by their manager.  Ask the mentee and get the answer straight from the horse’s mouth.

Listen, then ask

This relationship is about the mentee more than it is about the mentor.  Listen to the person before you give your opinion.  Their point of view, insights and perspectives are of the utmost importance, and can shape the process in the long term.

Emotional intelligence

When you become a mentor for someone, you'll get to know their personality, their wants, the experiences that have shaped them, and how they deal with situations. Unlock this information by acknowledging and controlling your own emotions – it will help the mentee be more forthcoming, and limit the affect your own biases may have on the process.

Admit your mistakes

Sharing your own failures helps build trust, gives the mentee permission to share their own mistakes, and strengthens the relationship between you both.

Celebrate achievements

Take the time to highlight and even celebrate your mentee's successes and achievements, and you're not just balancing out the mood of your sessions but you're also building your mentee's confidence, reinforcing good behavior, and keeping them focused and motivated.

Lead by example

Be a positive role model. Your mentee will learn about you by simply observing how you behave, and they’ll pick up about your "ethics, values, and standards; style, beliefs, and attitudes; methods and procedures," writes E. Wayne Hart for Forbes.

Think long-term

Adopt a mindset that you will be this person’s mentor forever.  This makes it easier for you give long-term guidance and help the mentee make decisions that will have a larger impact at your company.

Don’t forget

Lastly, remember that every mentor/mentee relationship is unique.  While there’s nothing wrong with applying your learnings from one mentorship to another, never forget that mentees are individuals, and what works for one may not work for another.