Being asked to be someone’s mentor at work is a nice vote of confidence. You have to be doing something right. However, while feeling flattered, you may also be wondering if you have what it takes to be a good mentor. Before you get started, review our strategies for how to mentor effectively.
Mentoring someone sees you providing professional input to another individual. Ideally, they’ve asked for your input to meet a particular goal or because you have a certain strength they want to improve. But you too can benefit from the mentor-mentee relationship. Being a mentor can:
- Provide a feeling of satisfaction
- Offer new perspectives
- Develop your leadership skills
- Enhance your communication skills
- Teach you new things
If you’ve agreed to take on a mentee, you’ll want to do your best to help that individual. But inspiring and guiding someone else in their career takes intentional effort on your part. That’s why we’ve gathered these eight suggestions for how to mentor effectively.
1. Agree on goals
The first thing you will need to do is establish a framework for the mentoring engagement. You need to “let the mentee lead,” according to Sheryl Lyons in a Forbes round-up of mentoring advice. “Mentoring is about guiding and empowering, not directing.”
Avoid being prescriptive. If you act like the expert coming in to tell them what to do, the mentee won’t develop the necessary skills or confidence they need. Prefer asking powerful questions and asking mentees to imagine what they might do if to telling them what you would do in a situation.
2. Identify your role
If you enter the mentor-mentee relationship seating yourself in the “expert” seat preparing to show how you have already been there and done that, you might find the mentee doesn’t respond well. Few people like to work with a know-it-all. Instead, clarify from the very beginning what you both expect of your role as a mentor.
Expect to ask questions and share ideas, even tell stories, but you don’t want to make the mentor dependent on you and your input. As ATD puts it, “you want them to be able to eventually outgrow their need for you.” Help position them for success by guiding them to look at themselves and situations at work in fresh ways.
3. Challenge the individual
Mentors can help accelerate the mentees growth and development. This may require you to push the mentee in certain directions or expect high performance from them. At the same time, though, you don’t want to create such high expectations that the mentee loses motivation or confidence.
When thinking about how to effectively mentor, also think about the importance of challenging your mentee’s assumptions. Asking probing questions that encourage them to brainstorm new ideas or dig deeper into an issue can help them discover personal truths and identify thinking that is holding them back.
4. Build a relationship, but don’t get off track
As an effective mentor you’ll need to establish trust and show empathy and compassion. Through your interactions together, you will really get to know the individual you are mentoring. That’s a good thing. Yet you don’t want to become such good friends that you are veering off into personal matters or gossiping about what’s happening in the work environment.
It’s a good idea to have an informal agenda for each of your sessions together. Start out by asking what the mentee wants to accomplish? That can be your true north for the discussion that day.
5. Practice active listening
An effective work mentor will stop talking and listen to the mentee. Again, while you may have been brought in to help because of what you know or do, the goal is to empower the mentee. Don’t hog the stage.
Being silent more isn’t enough, though. You need to practice active listening. Career advisor Jill Huggett tells Forbes, “Don’t feel like you need to have all the answers. To be honest, no one knows better about what is best for them than themselves. Many times, it just takes talking through things. If you can provide that sounding board, you are a valuable resource.”
6. Keep an open mind
Your experience is not the only way someone might get to where they want to go. A guide for mentoring women in technology notes, “If you are a man mentoring a woman, or if a protegee is from a different ethnic group, be aware and respect her experiences, ideas, and goals.”
You are a guide only. “Recognize that the protégée’s goals are her own and that she may have career goals that differ from the path you chose.”
Work to offer constructive criticism. A manager cited in Business News Daily noted, “Whoever you are mentoring isn’t going to get everything right on the first attempt, so you need to be able to [provide] feedback constructively but effectively to ensure that they improve and progress.”
7. Evaluate progress along the way
It can be helpful to set up a timeframe for the engagement. Perhaps you’ll agree upfront to work together for six months or a year. Then, plan on checking in with one another halfway through (or, sooner for a longer engagement). This could be an opportunity to refocus the mentoring relationship, change how you interact or how often, or end the formal mentoring if it isn’t working out.
8. Celebrate achievements
People often launch mentorship relationships because they are struggling with something or looking to address a weakness. So, taking the time to applaud achievements and recognize successes can help keep the mentee motivated.
HubSpot suggests you might even ask the individual to identify their love language. This will help you know whether your mentee will respond better to a small gift or perhaps words of affirmation.
There is a lot to think about when determining how to be an effective work mentor. But the benefits are worth it. Another article in this series also warned of potential pitfalls to avoid. Look next for our final installment in this series, comparing coaching and mentoring relationships.