Mentorship, when done well, is a mutually beneficial relationship. It can help the mentor — and, indeed, the mentee — develop better leadership skills, build their networks, and foster professional (and personal) growth. Being a good mentor, however, does require some planning. Here are some of the best tips we could find on how to be a good mentor and the benefits you might receive.
Get To Know Your Mentee First
Just like any partnership, you need to get to know your other half before making a solid commitment. The only way to avoid having a mentee feel like a lead weight you’re forced to drag around is to ascertain whether you’ll be a good fit. When assessing a potential mentee, look for traits like curiosity, organizational skills, and responsibility. Have they shown that they can take constructive criticism from people in roles of authority? Have they expressed a level of engagement that reflects a desire to learn?
It might even be wise to conduct an informal interview. Try to figure out their goals, and what motivates them. Ask what kind of support they would look for in a mentor. If you find yourself excited about the prospect of being able to provide that kind of guidance, you might be off to a good start.
Mentorship can look a lot like parenting an adult child. Your job is to help them learn their roles and continue to grow under their own power, not to tell them what to do and hold their hands the whole time. You can help them develop their own skills by letting them take control of their journey, and offer advice or directions along the way.
To do that successfully, establish firm boundaries. Set a limit, for instance, on unscheduled emails or phone calls. Instead schedule a regular, recurring meeting time to discuss recent developments and offer feedback.
Effective mentors are there to educate their mentees about the standards of the profession. They should also ensure that their mentee lives up to those standards. By setting clear expectations for both your relationship and their work, you will help ensure a positive outcome for you both.
One of the hardest parts of being a mentor is offering constructive criticism. The key word in that phrase to remember is constructive. Strive to offer feedback that will be helpful without breaking a mentee’s confidence or being overtly hurtful. The point is to educate and illuminate, not tear down.
Sharing your own experiences and mistakes can be a great way to send a message without criticizing your mentee directly. By painting them a picture about what you did and how you learned from it, the message received will hopefully be: “Don’t make my mistakes; do this instead.”
Along those same lines, sometimes practicing active listening is more helpful than any advice you could offer. There may be moments when mentees need a sounding board more than anything else, and if you can recognize that, it can allow them to reflect and perhaps find their own solutions.
Be a Positive Role Model
You can passively be a good mentor just by being a good role model. Just as children will learn habits by picking up on the behaviors of their parents and peers, so do young professionals who are learning the ropes. Things that may seem insignificant, such as how you interact with your coworkers or how you craft your emails, will be noted by any mentee seriously interested in improving.
Let your mentee observe you handle a delicate situation at work, for example. Ask them to sit in on important meetings, or even BCC them on critical communications. Share how you work through those moments when even you are unsure of how to proceed; these can be valuable lessons for everyone.
Share Your Network
One of the most valuable assets you have as someone with years of experience in your field is a vast network of peers and trusted professionals. By sharing this network with your mentee, you can open up avenues that are immensely beneficial for their career development. (This is where we circle back to why it is so important for you to properly vet any potential mentees: their successes and failures will reflect back on you, and a disappointing mentee can break your hard-earned network down.)
Remember that Mentorship is a Two-Way Street
Successful mentorship should be mutually beneficial. Yes, the mentee is getting to learn and grow from your guidance, but you should also be learning along the way and most importantly, feeling a sense of fulfillment. Mentorship shouldn’t feel like a slog of selfless sacrifices; hopefully, if you follow these tips, it will be a rewarding growth experience for you both.