6 Tips to Become a Better Mentor
With National Mentoring Day on the way on the 27th of October, it’s a great time to reflect on your own mentoring relationships.
Mentoring isn’t always simple, and the relationship you have with your mentee can even become strained at times. However, it’s incredibly rewarding and motivating to develop others professionally.
In this blog, we’re sharing simple tips to make you a better mentor and smooth the road to developing others.
Understand Your Mentee from the Start
Undertaking a mentoring relationship requires a significant commitment from both parties, as neither wants to become frustrated with the other’s progress.
Mentors should be available, helpful, and ready to invest their time in the mentee’s career. Mentees should be respectful and appreciative, as well as committed to making real changes to their professional life. If one party doesn’t hold up their side of the relationship, then the relationship can’t flourish.
Mentors should take time to understand those that they’re mentoring from the start, and assess whether your mentee is ready to make such a commitment. As the more experienced party, you may foresee issues within their workload that they may not anticipate.
Take some time to connect with your mentee and discuss where mentorship fits in with their schedule, professional goals, and life. If you think it’s the wrong time for them to be seeking mentorship or believe that their goals should be tempered by the time available to them, you can voice this.
Don’t Give Answers, Lead Your Mentee to Them
In your capacity as a mentor, you may be tempted to give your mentee the answer you believe to be correct and advise them of the best course of action in your opinion. However, when you do this you may be inadvertently harming their progress.
It’s natural for your mentee to come to you for advice, but your job isn’t always to answer them directly. Instead, you want to help them to reach the right conclusion by coaching.
For example, your mentee asks you how to stand out at work and you know that those in your industry are always impressed by attention to detail, as it’s a key competency. You can use questions like ‘if you were in a management position, what would you look for in a rising star?’ or ‘how do you think a mistake like this could be avoided in future, and how could you show that you’re aware of this?’
Thinking strategically is important for career development and by teaching your mentee how to reason through issues, they’ll be better placed to advocate for their solutions in the workplace.
Practice Active Listening and Be Empathetic
The vast majority of your conversations with your mentee will focus on their experiences and goals. Some mentors can take this as a signal to become more passive in the discussion, but it’s essential to continue an active role.
Using active listening techniques, you can further explore your mentee’s motivations and the scenarios they’ve encountered. Clarification and summarisation can be useful techniques to show your mentee that you’re engaged, as well as prompting them to understand another standpoint.
Empathy is a great skill for a mentor to have, as you have to identify with your mentee in order to coach them. They have to feel like you’re truly giving advice that you would follow in their situation. Much of this relationship is based on trust and being empathetic will help to build confidence.
Set Goals and Offer Accountability
For your mentee get the most from a mentoring relationship, you should work together to set goals and handle accountability. This kind of motivation can be invaluable and push your mentee to take real steps in their development, which would otherwise be delayed indefinitely.
This can be a learning curve for the mentor too, as you may not be accustomed to setting personal development goals. Temper your expectations and ensure that you work to get plans back on track should they fall behind.
It’s essential to get the balance right, as you want to ensure that your mentee takes accountability without becoming a tyrant. Gently reminding them of their long-term goals and the importance of their timeline can be helpful to give these goals a higher priority in their life.
Mentoring can bring you closer with a colleague or professional acquaintance, but you should still maintain boundaries. Mentors shouldn’t get too close or personal with their mentees, beyond understanding their personal goals.
With unclear boundaries, mentoring sessions can go off track, run late or be cancelled altogether as they begin to blur into social occasions. Similarly, you don’t want these sessions to become emotionally charged or turn into venting, as this won’t be productive.
A good way to maintain boundaries is to set some ground rules at the outset. These can include:
- How often you will meet.
- How much notice you should each give if you need to cancel.
- What success looks like for each of you.
- How you can each raise any issues you have with the arrangement.
- How you’ll discuss any conflicts of interest.
This may feel formal, but these rules can help to preserve the relationship and ensure you can each gain from the time that you spend together. If you feel like your mentee is struggling emotionally, then ensure that you pass on resources or contact details for a therapist who can help.
The CIPD outline a five-step process that mentors should follow to ensure mental wellbeing for their colleague. These range from allowing them to speak about their emotions, to speaking to a therapist or councillor on their behalf.
Safeguarding is an important responsibility, so do whatever you can to support your mentee emotionally.
As a more experienced person, you’ll likely have access to a bank of contacts or network that may be useful for your mentee. Making introductions to relevant people can really boost your mentee’s career.
Whether someone in your network is seeking an employee with your mentee’s skills or you feel that they could benefit from learning more from a contact, you can make the introduction. This will help your mentee stand out from the others who are trying to get in touch with your contact.
As long as you trust your mentee to behave professionally and genuinely benefit from the introduction, there’s no issue with putting them in touch. Many mentors guard their network until a point in the relationship in which they see real value in making introductions so as not to overwhelm their contacts.
Be sure to explain your connection with your mentee, especially where a job vacancy is involved. While you may think that you can be impartial about their skills and experience, many interviewers would prefer to know about any vested interests you have.
Mentoring can be hugely rewarding for both parties and by excelling as a mentor, you can list this among your professional achievements. As a mentor, you can influence and help your colleagues with their own careers to help them to reach new heights.