Those of us fortunate enough to have had a mentor early on in our career know the vital role this individual played in helping to influence and shape who we became. Mentors encourage us to tap into our strengths, gain the self-confidence to go after our dreams, provide direction and expertise, and even open doors to opportunities that may otherwise not have been available. Paying it forward by becoming a mentor yourself is one of the most rewarding roles you can undertake. Here are several ways to become a more effective mentor and to better connect with your mentee(s).
- Choose a mentee carefully.
Mentorship will no doubt take time away from your work and even family obligations. Make sure you have the bandwidth to take on a mentee. Also, be sure your investment is in someone with whom you can have a productive relationship and that the mentorship will be a good fit. As the mentor, you want to know that your mentee will benefit from what you have to offer.
- Understand the mentorship relationship and everyone’s expectations.
The majority of mentorships in a work or academic environment involve a person in a senior position coaching and guiding a new employee or student. It’s important for both parties to talk about one another’s expectations and set the ground rules. For example, how often will you meet with your mentees, and what is the time frame for the mentorship? Ask about the mentees’ goals and what they want to learn so you can best determine how you can help them. Discussing the various aspects of the mentorship will also help establish good communication at the outset.
- Keep engaged.
Mentoring involves an ongoing commitment, so be sure you’re ready to take this on – not only when you first begin the relationship but throughout the arrangement. Establish a schedule of mentoring activities to which you can adhere to keep everything on track. It will help you prioritize your commitments and show your mentee how serious you are about the mentorship relationship. Set up regular check-ins via email, a virtual platform, or in-person meetings.
- Foster trust.
Ensure mentees feel the environment in which they are working is a safe and transparent one. Mentees will often share their vulnerabilities, weaknesses, concerns, and even their fears with you. They don’t want to feel judged or as if they may miss out on an opportunity because they opened up to you about a particular issue or situation.
You’re also in a position of authority as the mentor, so be as forthright as possible. For example, a position for which a mentee wanted to apply became available. I discussed the position with my mentee and explained that he was not ready to take the leap at that time, as there was more to learn before he would be able to excel in the position. He respected my honesty, and we worked together toward achieving his goal.
- Share your experience.
Be relatable in order to break down the barriers between you and the mentee. Share your own experience – both successes and failures. In your opening up about some of the mistakes you’ve made, a mentee will gain confidence. Knowing a successful individual stumbled along the way is reassuring to someone just starting out. Let your mentee know it’s okay to make missteps. Sharing your journey and how you overcame a specific situation will serve as a teaching moment and help solidify a trusting relationship with your mentee.
- Listen carefully.
Take the time to really listen to your mentee before offering any advice. Sometimes a concern or challenge involves more than what a mentee is communicating at the time. Ask questions and dig deeper so that you can provide advice that gets to the heart of the matter and can facilitate the goals of your mentee.
- Expect performance from your mentee.
Mentees want to learn and grow. Look to push their capabilities, so they get the most out of a mentorship. Acknowledge their achievements. We all want kudos for doing a great job.
It’s important not to come off as knowing everything and being intimidating. Your objective as a mentor is to coach, learn, and guide your mentees. Keep the line of communication open and stay in tune with your mentee’s aspirations.
Written by Dr. Joel Lavine.
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