Mentoring rewards can be enormous but it does take effort and of course, preparation. Many people are able to identify someone who mentored them as they were just starting out professionally, or in school, or perhaps was simply a positive role model growing up. Mentorships, whether formal or informal, offer a wealth of knowledge and opportunity for the present and future generations.
What makes a good mentor?
While many of us can think of a person who was a good mentor to us, can we pinpoint what exactly made them a good mentor?
This means that they must have good listening and listening comprehension skills. Good mentors need to be able to hear you, understand you, and take what you’re saying to heart in order to help you. This makes them approachable and nonjudgemental. Being nonjudgemental is extremely important when finding the ideal mentor. Remember that while staying open to someone else’s experiences, hopes, anxieties, and goals, a good mentor cannot be placing judgment at the same time. Everyone has different pasts and ideal futures, a good mentor works with what you have, what they can offer, and combines those experiences to help you reach your personal and professional goals regardless of whether or not it is what they would want.
A good mentor may not have the same exact experience that you have had or would like to have, but they should have experiences relevant to your goals. And while expertise in certain areas is a necessity, having parallel roles can still be relevant and valuable in others. The more similar their past experience, the more effective their mentorship can be.
Communication is always a great skill to excel in, but it’s particularly valuable for good mentors to possess the ability to communicate effectively. This starts with the good listening and listening comprehension skills discussed earlier and ends with the ability to process that information and offer advice, opinions, and encouragement based on them. Someone can have all the experience in the world and without the ability to relay their knowledge effectively, it becomes lost.
Wants to mentor
And finally, perhaps the most important and most simple answer to this question is that a good mentor wants to help and share their own experiences. You can’t fake enthusiasm, and having a mentor who is genuinely engaged makes all the traits listed above truly come to life. If a mentor is shut down about sharing their own experiences or hesitant to open up, your time with them won’t give you the optimal and most valuable experience.
Remember that a good mentor isn’t strictly an instructor, they are a coach that hones the abilities you have to achieve the goals you desire.
Steps to Becoming a Good Mentor
We’ve thought about it hard, consulted our in-house mentoring experts, and distilled their advice into five impactful tips on how to be a great mentor.
Set Expectations at the Start.
The first meeting between you and your mentee is important because it’s the first step towards your goal of being a good mentor. By setting expectations from the very beginning, you’ll ensure that you and your mentee will be productive from the start rather than dealing with false expectations. Here’s what we suggest you cover in your first meeting:
- How much time you both can invest into the relationship
- What you as the mentor can help with
- Your preferred mode of communication, and how and where you’ll meet
- What your mentee’s expectations are, and how to find a middle ground for the expectations if compromise is needed
- Where and how often you’ll meet
Set a Communication Schedule.
Each mentee requires a different amount of communication to feel supported and find success. It’s important to discuss a communication and meeting schedule together to determine what makes the most sense for their goals and yours, while also factoring in your schedule. Here are some questions to ask:
- Will you meet in person or virtually?
- How often will you meet (weekly, monthly, quarterly, etc.)?
- Will you be available anytime during the workday or evening? Or only during specific times?
- What is the preferred method of communication (email, phone or text)?
- What are your boundaries, and what are theirs?
After your first meeting, you’ll want to start working on developing your mentee’s capabilities. This is much of what mentoring is about. We suggest you work with the mentee and begin creating strategies to meet challenges and find learning and stretch opportunities. Part of this includes:
- Creating short- and long-term goals, along with an actionable plan for achieving them
- Assessing skills and identifying development areas consistent with professional goals
- Helping the mentee monitor performance and refocus steps as needed
Be Open to a Changing Perspective.
Often, good mentors find their perspective shifts as a result of talking to their mentees. Many mentors find this to be the most valuable part of their mentoring relationship. When you’re talking with your mentee, try to:
- Broaden the mentee’s perspective of the organization’s history, values, and culture
- Ask thought-provoking questions to encourage development of competencies and attitudes
- Identify resources the mentee may not yet be taking advantage of
Challenge Your Mentee.
Your mentee is eager to learn and ready to learn from you. Good mentors take that eagerness and turn it into real excitement. Inspire your mentee to improve by:
- Challenging the mentee to rise above his or her normal routine and responsibilities
- Showing the mentee how to behave in a way that inspires others
- Modelling attitudes and behavior consistent with leadership and even company values
Create Mutual Goals.
Your mentee may have already expressed wishes and objectives they have on their end, but what are yours as the mentor? What do you hope to accomplish with your mentee? Establish goals you both want to accomplish or that you want to help each other achieve. Here are some ways to determine those goals:
- Express what you are hoping to gain from the experience and what you want them to gain from you
- Prioritize what you want to address together
- Agree on the amount of time you’ll devote to each issue and how in-depth you each want to get
One thing that many mentors get wrong is one of the most simple tasks: listening. You don’t always need to be offering advice or providing feedback. Sometimes a mentee just needs someone to listen. Maybe they have a particular dream or aspiration they want to confide in you. Or maybe they simply had a bad day. Sometimes listening is the best support you can provide.
At times, it’s beneficial to let your mentee express their own opinion on a situation, instead of you repeatedly providing your own insight. This can empower them to come to their own conclusion or solution. Here’s how to actively listen effectively:
- Be engaged by keeping eye contact
- Express your feelings in your face, not by interrupting
- Ask questions that allow them to expand on how they feel about the situation
- Before jumping into a response, ask, “Would you like to hear my thoughts on that situation?”
Ask and Advise.
When you’re having a back and forth conversation with your mentee, it’s important to let them feel their opinions and ideas are valued. Even if they may not be accurate based on the insight and experience you have, it’s often best to use questions to steer them in the right direction, rather than lecture them about their feelings on a particular topic. Here’s how you can prompt your mentee to critically analyze situations:
- Ask them how they came to that conclusion or idea
- Ask them if they personally agree with that information
- Ask them how they would implement that information in certain situations
- Tell them about some specific times you faced that same situation and how you dealt with it
Give and Receive Feedback.
Feedback is key to a successful mentoring relationship, and how you deliver it will determine how receptive the mentee is. But good mentors are receptive to feedback too. Although the mentoring relationship is formulated for the sake of the mentee, don’t forget that mentors often learn a great deal from the relationship as well. Here are our tips for giving and receiving feedback:
- Ask how your mentee would prefer to receive feedback
- Give specific, immediate, and private feedback
- Offer useful suggestions for the mentee to try next time
- Uphold confidentiality and strive for mutual respect
- Prompt your mentee to provide their own feedback on the feedback you gave them (the manner, style, timing, etc.)
Additional Feedback Tips
Because providing feedback is so important to being a good mentor, we’re providing you with some additional advice. Good feedback should be:
- Specific: Directed at behavior, not the person
- Timely: Given as soon as possible after the event
- Balanced: Regularly provide both positive feedback and areas of improvement
- Frequent: Provide feedback in an ongoing fashion
- Captured: Feedback should be captured by the recipient in writing so he or she can review it regularly
Let Them Make Their Own Decision.
After providing your mentee with feedback, advice and prompts, it’s very important to allow them to make their own decision based on these conversations and lectures. In your position, it’s quite easy to tell them what to do. You may have gone through it yourself, and you have a lot more knowledge on the industry or situation.
But if you simply tell them what to do, you are taking away their chance to challenge themselves. They won’t experience that trial and error that allows them to learn from their own mistakes first-hand if you’re jumping in to give them the correct decision all the time. Instead, here’s what you can do to support them:
- Be there for them if they fail or if things go wrong
- Offer advice or direction for them throughout the process
- Set up new goals that can help them overcome their current obstacle
- Before they make a final decision, ask them what they expect to get out of their actions so they can measure it against the real outcomes
Be Accountable to Each Other.
A mentor and mentee relationship revolves around trust. You’re often relying on each other to make the situation beneficial for both parties. This means both parties are equally held accountable. If you said you would look into a certain situation for them, do it. But don’t be afraid to question their progress or intentions on objectives as well.
- Follow up on tasks you assigned them
- Establish upcoming projects, steps or actions for both of you before the next meeting
- Give updates on what you are working on from your end
Establish an Open Door Policy.
An open door policy isn’t just about your mentee being able to speak with you whenever they want. If they have proven themselves trustworthy and passionate about learning and growing, there should be an open door policy when it comes to your network as well.
- Introduce them to your contacts in the industry that would be beneficial to them
- Find them specialists to speak with who can help with their specific needs and goals
Check Your Biases and Impulses at the Door.
This might be the most important lesson of all. When it comes to taking on a mentee, you can’t assume anything about them before getting to know them. This could mean throwing away stereotypes based on their identity, but also biases one may have about their experience or background. A mentor is not supposed to judge, especially when you’re at a stage when you know so little about the mentee. Instead, let them tell their own story. Let them present themselves how they want to be presented. Let them present their ambitions and goals. You’re there to inspire them and help them succeed, not hold them back based on biases and your own personal impulses.
Being a good mentor is a serious commitment but it’s important to have fun. Creating a caring, enthusiastic relationship will encourage you to put more effort into being an effective mentor. So have a great time, encourage your mentee to have fun too, and enjoy the productive outcomes ahead.