How to be a Mentor

When you get to that point in your career that you have to start fielding mentorship requests, you may well be caught by surprise. Sure it’s a compliment but don’t let it get to your head, don’t pass up the opportunity either. It may seem daunting at first but it will be worth it in the end, it’s not only the mentee who stands to benefit from the mentor-mentee relationship. You just need to figure out how to be a mentor, that’s all.

First Ask; Are You Available to be a Mentor?

Before you commit to working with a mentee ask yourself if you have the time and whether you have the energy required to help another person grow professionally. Being available is about more than attending regular meetings, it’s about being approachable and listening. It’s not a small task and it doesn’t come without challenges and frustrations. You may well find yourself trading the hours you would otherwise use to pursue your own career goals; to help someone else realise their career goals.

Pick the Right Mentee

If your mentee is uninspired and aimless you are likely to be dragging them along while they simultaneously learn nothing and waste your time. It is not up to you as the mentor to singlehandedly drive the entire process. A balanced mentor-mentee relationship requires both parties to remain responsible, efficient and engaged. A mentee who is on the ball welcomes constructive criticism, sticks to scheduled appointments and works hard to put into practice the lessons learned during meetings; is less likely to waste a mentor’s time. To gauge your mentee’s commitment consider giving them an assignment such as a book review or a presentation. An assignment will also help you gain insight into their professional headspace, commitment and skill level.

Clarify the Roles

Boundaries are extremely important in any relationship. If you are caught off guard as a mentor you may just find yourself doing more than your share of work, landing the additional responsibility of unrelated favours and support. By insisting on clear roles and responsibilities from the start, you minimise the potential for future conflict. For example; the mentee’s responsibilities could be to schedule regular meetings and confirm them ahead of time. The mentor however, should be responsible for reverting and giving feedback on any assignments or tasks required of the mentee.

Set Goals

As loose or strict as the mentor-mentee relationship may be, goals are an essential aspect of the entire process. If not for goals what is the point of mentorship at all? Time and resources are rarely limitless and as such they should be treated with respect. The structure brought about by the creation of goals will help drive the learning experience for both the mentor and the mentee. With a clear idea of what needs to be achieved, both parties are able to thrive when goals are met and equally both parties are able to find new methods or take a new approach when things don’t go as planned.

Don’t Micromanage

If you are the typical A-type personality; organised, prompt and carefully scheduled, you may need to fight the urge to get too involved when things don’t quite go your way. There is always more than one way to do things and a mentor’s role is to observe and advise, offering high-level guidance only. Rather than getting stuck in specifics, you are supposed to challenge your mentee to consider different approaches and ask difficult questions. To observe and advise someone based on specific scenarios may be counterproductive.

Take Stock

Before you and your mentee get bogged down with the routine of meeting up, having thoughtful discussions and then continuing with the everyday humdrum as before, remember to take stock regularly. The act of looking up from your desk serves to realign your perspective, note your achievements and learn from your mistakes. If you are unable to do that, you may never be able to fully identify the progress made and progress is the whole point.

Despite all our tips, tricks and how-tos, being a mentor is still no easy feat. As with anything, the outcome is seldom perfect but both the mentor and mentee will learn something – even if you both walk away feeling clueless as to how to be a mentee or how to be a mentor. If you didn’t learn anything at all; you probably weren’t paying attention.

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