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8 Ways to Become a Better Mentor

We all know mentorship is important. It’s one of the most effective ways of developing – and retaining – new talent within an organization. In fact, employees who plan to stay with an organization for more than five years are twice as likely to have a mentor.

But the thing that many would-be mentors don’t realize is that mentorship is just as much about the mentor as it is about the mentee. It calls for a certain mindset — a mindset where you’re willing to not just offer up kernels of advice but commit to teaching, counseling, coaching, and befriending another person with ultimate goal of improving his or her confidence, skills, and career.

If someone has recently asked you to become a mentor, or you’re currently working with a mentee, here are steps that will help ensure you’re both getting the most out of the relationship: 

1. Set rules of engagement

If you decide to become someone’s mentor, make it a priority — but it obviously isn’t your only priority. Decide how much time you can realistically commit to providing career advice and guidance to another person. An hour once a month is a good goal for the first six months. That said, still make yourself accessible for impromptu meetings to help your mentee handle high-stress challenges or obstacles that may crop up.

2. Establish goals

Anyone who seeks out a mentor enters into this relationship for a reason, and it’s important for you, as the mentor, to understand this reason (or reasons, really) and establish both short- and long-term goals for your time together. Try to keep these goals limited to no more than three. Otherwise, the time you spend together will lack focus and have no real means for measuring success.

3. Take a personal interest

Great mentors take the job of trusted advisor seriously, and that means learning as much as you can about the person you’re mentoring. 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.

4. Pose questions, not answers

Oftentimes, mentors believe their only role is to impart sage advice. But the best mentors ask questions and listen intently to the answers before ever offering guidance. In fact, you’ll be asking questions a lot more than providing advice. 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?”

5. 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 stick to constructive criticisms and feel comfortable sharing what you would’ve done in that same situation. By that same token, you should also feel open to sharing mistakes you’ve made in your career. You do your mentee a disservice when you don’t divulge what you’ve learned from your failings. 

6. Support your mentee

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.

7. Lead by example

The best mentors lead by example. Your mentee is watching what you do and how you do it. After each meeting, look back at how you were mentoring and make sure your actions match your words. This is especially true for anyone mentoring someone you work with. That person sees whether you’re practicing what you preach. 

8. 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. It will run its course, and you have the option of letting it come to a natural conclusion or setting up parameters for the length of your mentorship. The advantage of establishing an end date at the start is you instill urgency to your time together. And you and your mentee will work that much harder to achieve that person’s goals.

Mentorship is probably one of the best gifts you can give another person. And when done right, that gift will keep on giving. Your mentee will forever be able to tap into the skills, advice, and insights gleaned from your time together. Not a bad way to start the New Year.

Looking for a mentor of your own? Check out the tips in this article.