What does it mean to be a mentor?
Being a mentor can mean a lot of different things to people.
Ultimately you are being a trusted adviser, which involves making yourself available to support and advise someone when they need it, and delivering that support in a way that makes sense to them. A mentor is always trying to keep the persons’ best interests in mind.
Mentoring opportunities can vary, from one-on-one relationships that can last years to providing short-term on the spot mentoring (during a coffee catch up or a speed mentoring session).
You might already have your own personal mentoring style and readiness, but here are our top 10 tips to help make a positive impact on others.
- Agree on the expectation of the relationship
Be very clear if you’re there to mentor for a one time only offering or if you’re open to being approached afterwards. If you’re only available for one session, try to be actionable with the advice you’re giving, so the mentee can feel like they got value from a short session. If you’re open to continuing the mentorship session then set realistic expectations on how much time you can give or how often you can meet.
- If a mentee is shy, initiate the conversation
Not all mentees will be comfortable opening up to new mentors who they don’t know very well. Help make the mentees feel at ease, and if you see that their are insecure or struggling to ask their questions – initiate a conversation starter on identifying what their goal is:
- Ask them about their aspirations, short-term or long-term career goals.
- Ask them about their existing challenges, they’d like to overcome?
- Find out what they want and expect from you – get a good understanding if they want support, guidance, insight or personal stories.
- Don’t assume anything about your mentee – ask.
Every person you mentor is different. We all have distinctive learning styles and career ambitions. Try and approach each mentorship differently. It’s easy to fall into stereotypes or not see a situation from another person’s perspective. Try not to expect everyone to progress at the same rate you did or immediately project expectations on your mentee based on your own desires or opinions.
Instead it’s important to ask questions on the reality of where they are now. So you can help identify options for them.
- Be present and know when to wait before giving advice
Becoming an active listener, shows you’ve made a conscious effort to really, truly pay attention to what your mentee is saying, rather than what you think you’re going to say next. You don’t always need to come up with something helpful right away, in fact, you may give more appropriate advice to the scenario if you listen closely, ask open questions to dig deeper and act as a sounding board.
- Offer constructive criticism
Providing feedback constructively but effectively is important to ensuring mentees improve or progress. Help the mentee to identify what different options are open to them. This might include challenging how they currently do or think about something. Say what you think you mentee needs to hear from you, not what you think he or she might want to hear.
There are also ways to deliver criticism without breaking their spirits, so try and be diplomatic and tactful when addressing concerns. Rather then only noting the mentees shortcomings or mistakes, point out their positive and offer guidance to improve. You can also draw from your own experiences on how you had a time you had a slip up and how you re-directed your attention to progress.
- Share your stories
There’s no must-do guide for mentors. However the power of sharing your personal journey and stories can help give greater context to your mentees. Stories are a great way of teaching and keeping others engaged – especially when sharing times you’ve felt vulnerable or even failed. This can help create empathy because a story you have from your archives might relate to the battle they’re currently facing.
Remember to keep the stories short and to the point, as the mentoring sessions are about your mentees not about yourself!
- Help them agree to set tasks or accountable actions
Try and help stretch your mentee by giving them examples of actionable tasks or experiments they could try and test. This doesn’t mean your responsible for always providing concrete answers to their questions or scenarios. It may be as simple as providing suggestions, or agreeing on setting small goals together. However, by framing the conversation in a way that allows them to take steps going forward, can be hugely valuable for a mentees to feel they have gone away from the session with practical actions to implement straight away.
- Try letting them come up with the conclusion themselves
Recognise that it’s the mentee’s responsibility to oversee their own career path. As a result, you can try the ‘socratic method’ to mentoring. So carrying out a dialogue in which the goal is to get someone to arrive at the conclusion that you want themselves by simply asking them questions. If a person arrives at the conclusion on their own behalf then they’re much more likely to take the conclusion seriously. It’s an interesting way to stop people from feeling though they’ve being talked down to, but you’re still guiding them in the general direction. You might be surprised at how much difference it says “do you think that’s a good idea?” instead of saying “that’s not a good idea”.
This is a great technique if you don’t know an answer to a question. Instead of making up a response to a question you’re not sure about, turn it back to your mentee. Ask them ‘so how would you do it’ – listen to their response and find ways to build on it with further questions or clarifications.
- Connect or intro them to others
It can be common practice to hold your contacts close to your chest. However as a mentor, you’re there to spot how you can add value, and it might be through introducing them to people you know. Or sharing the resources you’ve found invaluable in your own career, and give them some inspiration or practical resources you think they can utilise.
The right connections at the right time can instantly open new doors. Sometimes when you share what you have with others, you can get ten times the return back.
- Give the confidence they need
A lot of mentees need a mentor because they don’t always believe in themselves. They might be stuck in a ‘rut’ or had faced a setback and need the motivation of others to go out and do it. Sometimes, it’s as straightforward as inspiring your mentee to move beyond their limited beliefs. Even when they face difficulties, try not to act like your mentee will never comprehend your guidance. Have a optimistic outlook, respond positively and be an energy donor.
Written by Laura Chung, DevelopHer Co-founder.