What makes a good mentor?
On the path to establishing yourself in your career, you gained a lot of knowledge and experience. The journey you took can act as an inspiration for new, up-and-coming employees in your field. But this wasn’t a journey you took alone. Along the way you likely had help from older, more experienced workers.
And now that you’ve achieved a degree of success in your field, perhaps it’s time to take what you’ve learned and help the next generation of workers by becoming a mentor to a rising star in your organisation.
Being a mentor can be a very rewarding experience in itself, but it can have other, far-reaching results as well. In the process of mentoring, you are also transferring knowledge within the organization, helping to ensure that the next wave of workers won’t waste time reinventing what you’ve already done.
As a mentor, you’ll provide counsel and advice so that your mentee can learn, make good decisions, and grow their own career. Here are a few key elements that will help ensure your time as a mentor is well spent.
THE MENTEE WALKS THE PATH, THE MENTOR GUIDES
To be successful, the mentor-mentee relationship needs two-way communication. This means that sometimes you need to act as the teacher, explaining a key process or element of the business. Other times, you need to assume the role of listener or sounding board, letting your mentee tell you about their successes and wins. Still, other times require you to be the wizened sage, dispensing advice on how to avoid pitfalls or traps on their path.
Ultimately, it’s the mentee who has to chart their own career path. While the mentor’s role is one of a guide, helping the mentee navigate the obstacles that might slow them down, it’s important to look at the road from their perspective. Keep your own desires and preferences in the background as you offer them advice.
And remember, you’re only assisting them on their journey. While it would be easy for you, with all your accumulated knowledge, to tell the mentee what to do, the decisions they face are ultimately up to them to make. Trial and error is an important part of the learning process.
Your mentee will make mistakes — everyone does. As painful as it can be, failure is an integral part of the learning process. And that’s where you in the role of mentor come in. You can use your knowledge and experience to help them learn — and recover — from that failure. After all, it’s likely you’ve made similar mistakes of your own.
Ask them what they’ve learned, how they would do things differently, and what systems they can implement to avoid such a mistake in the future.
ESTABLISH GOALS, ASK QUESTIONS
The first step to a successful mentoring relationship is a clear definition of the goals and objectives. From your very first meeting, explain to your mentee what you expect from them. Emphasize that it’s their responsibility to come to your meetings on time and prepared with action items, such as problems they need help solving or questions they might have about the business.
Be sure to clearly explain how you see your role as a teacher, coach, and guide. But it’s also critical to ask what they want to learn from you. Remember, this is a two-way relationship. Find out what their needs are. Do they want you to open doors? Are they hoping to improve their skills? Do they need to more about a specialized aspect of the business?
When asking questions, it’s important to frame your questions in a way that will help them figure the answer out for themselves. This not only helps them hone the critical thinking skills it empowers them to make better, more difficult decisions in the future.
RESPONSIBILITY AND RESPECT
Helping shape a person’s career isn’t something to be decided casually. If you take the time to be responsible for a mentorship, you’ve agreed to build a solid foundation of success for your mentee. Part of this means you have to hold them accountable for what they say and do. If they promise something, don’t let them off the hook if the task slips through the cracks.
Similarly, you are accountable to them. If you agree to help them with a task, don’t shrug it off or give it a cursory treatment. Your mentee is looking to you for guidance, and following through on your promises to them is one of your prime responsibilities to both the relationship and the individual.
You also have to give the mentorship the respect it’s due. Entering into such a relationship isn’t something to shoehorn into a spare ten-minute time slot on your calendar. Oftentimes, moving the relationship forward starts with the mentee, but once they reach out and you agree to give them your time, it’s critical to the mentorship that you stand by your commitments.
Above all, approach the mentorship with a high level of professionalism and respect for the individual you’re mentoring. Mentors are often in a position of power, and taking advantage of that is the gravest mistakes a mentor can make.
LEARN FROM THEM
Yes, you’ve been able to find success in your career, but that doesn’t mean you know all there is to know. A mentee will often bring new ideas to the table that might challenge convention. It’s critical to listen and consider their ideas. After all, there’s always room for innovation and improvement even if you’re at the peak of your career.
Although it takes a lot of patience and a fair amount of practice, choosing to mentor someone can be one of the best decisions you can make. It allows you to help foster the professional growth of an individual who is as passionate and energetic about their career path as you are. With a little planning and thoughtful guidance, being a good mentor to an up-and-coming individual can be a very rewarding experience for both of you.