How to Be A Good Mentor
By Mark Swartz
Mentoring is about helping another person learn through a one-to-one relationship. It’s a common practice for transferring knowledge and promoting best practices at work. As well it is an effective way to develop new leaders.
Serving as a mentor benefits you as well as the mentee. Incorporate these nine tips so the process works well for both of you.
1. Establish Expectations And Ground Rules
When first introduced to the mentee, make them comfortable by explaining your role. Answer any questions they may have about the mentoring process.
Point out what you expect of them (e.g. to come prepared with problems to resolve or inquiries to discuss; to show up on time; to treat this as a professional and respectful relationship, etc.). Explain what you’re prepared to do for them: coach, teach, and open relevant doors.
2. Do An Informal Needs Assessment
Ask the mentee what their priorities are in meeting with you. Which aspects of their job or career do they want to know about most? What areas are they hoping to improve in?
3. Set Goals Mutually
Find out from the mentee’s manager what they would like you to focus on as the mentor. Integrate those key elements with the expressed wishes of the mentee.
You and the mentee should then prioritize what you’ll address together first. Agree on how much time you’ll devote to the initial issues and how much depth to go into.
4. Set A Contact Schedule
How often will you and your mentee meet in person? Will you be available as well for phone or email/text consults anytime during the workday and evening, or only in specific timeslots on certain days?
Be clear about your time boundaries. Offer enough availability not to leave your mentee in a lurch, but not so much that they become an annoyance.
5. Listen Carefully First, Then Ask And Advise
You may possess all kinds of accumulated wisdom. But a mentee isn’t an empty vessel into which you pour your knowledge. It’s unfair to them if you drone on and on, taken with your own brilliance.
Hear what the mentee has to say before giving your opinion. Query them on their point of view. They bring insights and perspectives which you may not yet appreciate.
6. Let Them Make Their Own Decisions
The mentor is generally more knowledgeable and experienced than the mentee. It would be easy just to tell the protégé what to do.
Except it would deprive them of thinking through challenges to derive solutions. And it wouldn’t allow them to learn by trial and error. Never mind that, wise as you are, you might not know every answer.
7. Be Accountable To Each Other
If you promise to look into an issue or provide a resource to the mentee, do so according to the terms of your commitment. By the same token expect them to meet their pledges to you.
Trust and accountability are foundations of an effective mentoring relationship. So assign them homework and attach consequences to incompleteness. But let them express disappointment if you fail to deliver on your undertakings.
8. Open Doors
You have connections your mentee would benefit from. If the protégé shows that they are serious about learning and growing, introduce them to appropriate people in your network. Internally that could include senior staff or specialists. Externally it might be professionals at suppliers, associations or at other companies.
9. Check Your Biases And Impulses
Hopefully you’ll get to know your mentee reasonably well. Before you do, avoid letting stereotypes distort your impressions. Just like you that person may be different from what’s on the surface.
Finally don’t violate the bounds of your professional relationship. Mentors tend to be in a power position.
You could get fired for inappropriate behaviour and sued for sexual harassment. Treat mentoring as a work responsibility and everyone will gain.