How To Be A Great Mentor

Mentoring is one of the most valuable ways that you can contribute to your organization and grow the career of a younger colleague simultaneously. I’ve been lucky enough to have had several great mentors over the course of my career. These relationships are vital to not only my professional development, but my personal development as well. Having a sympathetic ear when times are tough is just as valuable as the development of professional skills.

I’ve also mentored my fair share of younger colleagues and these relationships are incredibly rewarding. I’ve seen careers blossom and learned many, many things from my younger peers at the same time.

I don’t want to say you “must” be actively mentoring the younger talent in your organization, but the benefits of mentoring are so powerful that it would be a serious misstep to not consider it!

Why Mentoring is Valuable

Mentoring benefits you on a personal level and your company on an organizational level. The opportunity to teach and advise others by mentoring in the workplace will be a boost to your own confidence and job satisfaction. While you focus and listen to the concerns of your mentee, you’ll gain better understanding of employee issues and hone your interpersonal communication skills. Mentoring may improve your supervisory skills as well. Be prepared for some exciting new professional and personal development.

The organizational benefits of mentoring can’t be understated. A mentor/mentee relationship allows employees across levels to develop a more cohesive understanding of operations, exchange ideas and advice and generally work more cooperatively. You have the opportunity to directly pass on the institutional knowledge and experience that you’ve accrued over the course of your career to the next generation. Remember that the young people you mentor now will be ones that carry out your legacy long after you’ve retired.

Choosing a Mentee

Millennials who make up the majority in many workplaces are typically more interested than previous generations in being paired with a mentor. Many have grown up thinking that one must constantly seek the advice others and millennial communication mores (immersion in social media and constant mobile connectedness) have exaggerated this belief. Younger workers are accustomed to sharing and receiving comments and advice quickly and easily with their personal network of friends and now expect it at work.

This willingness to receive guidance and feedback makes younger workers very receptive to the possibility of mentorship. Your company may have a formal mentorship program you can enroll in, or, you can simply establish a relationship with a younger team member through informal get togethers and open communication. Open access to an experienced role model can be invaluable for young workers as they seek to provide value and feel valued in the workplace.

Here are some things to look for when choosing a mentee.

  1. Willingness to learn – Choose a younger employee who has demonstrated an openness to coaching and training.
  2. A different skillset from your own – Mentoring naturally leads into reverse mentoring, where you learn from your mentee. Choose a mentee who can teach you new techniques to improve your own skillset.
  3. Different life experience – In addition to learning new skills, mentees can introduce you to a new perspective. Try to select someone from a background you’re unfamiliar with.

What Mentorship Looks Like

Mentorship has evolved over the past few decades. Younger workers may select multiple mentors, not only traditional more seasoned leaders, but also peer mentors and coaches. Be open to the specific needs and goals of the mentee that you are paired with – how can you uniquely help them achieve their professional goals?

Mentoring at its best is about transferring experience, competence and some tactical information to your mentee so that they can make good use of your advice and build a plan to meet new goals. As their mentor, provide them with support and guidance because you’ve already walked their path.

Mentoring Strategies and Tips for Success

  1. Many structured mentoring sessions will happen one-on-one, either over coffee, lunch, or on the phone/Skype. Find a mutually convenient time when you can truly focus on your mentee.
  2. Make them feel that meeting with you is a safe and comfortable way to share. You will do this by being open, authentic and sincere in your communications approach.
  3. Watch their body language, maintain eye contact, and gain an understanding of which topics are difficult for the mentee to discuss and handle on their own.
  4. Help your mentee develop goals for their professional development and plan to give feedback with a strong focus on their future, not a deep-dive into the past.
  5. Great mentors foster discovery, asking thought-provoking questions. Make your mentee do the thinking and be an attentive listener with genuine curiosity in what your mentee tells you.
  6. Provide feedback in a way that objectively summarizes what you have heard, ask questions for clarity and add in your interpretation when it feels appropriate.
  7. Demonstrate your desire to help – you should be willing to spend time with them and remain positive throughout. Focus less on being the expert or leader. Your title or position may your greatest liability – focus on being a friend, not a boss.

While one-on-one, in-person meetings are great for working out problems, observing your mentee at work and in other professional settings is also valuable. Invite them to an event that you are attending and introduce them to other leaders. Observing your mentee in action, ideally in multiple settings, may allow you to give them even better feedback. Keep in mind that mentoring is not just about what you say in a one-on-one session, it is also about how you support your mentee in the day-to-day. Be flexible to help whenever possible and set boundaries if needed.

If at any time your mentoring relationship is not working as you had you hoped, clearly communicate your concerns to your mentee first. Hopefully you can course-correct the pattern and move forward.

Mentoring relationships are designed to be temporary. When your mentee has completed their mentoring goal(s), be willing to let the formal relationship end. You can certainly remain in touch but meetings in person may cease. Ideally you will have opportunities to be in many mentoring relationships during your career, including some situations where you are the mentee who is learning new ideas.

Reverse Mentoring

Reverse mentoring describes the two-way benefits of mentoring, where you learn from your mentee as they learn from you. Younger employees can teach you all manner of valuable skills that probably weren’t even on the curriculum when you were in school. Reverse mentoring is a two-way street, designed for both colleagues to grow and learn. Read more in my recent blog post.

So go out there and mentor! Your younger colleagues will appreciate it and you’ll develop as a leader as well. If you’d like to establish a formal mentorship program at your organization, I can help.