10 Top Tips for Becoming an Effective Mentor

Tuesday, 24th July 2018

Many successful people attribute at least part of their success to having a mentor or, in some cases, multiple mentors throughout their lives. Mentoring can be traced back as far as Greek mythology in which, legend has it, Mentor taught Odysseus’s son, Telemachus.

The term “mentor” became known as meaning an “experienced and trusted adviser.” (Oxford Dictionary). However, in practice, the meaning can differ from one mentoring relationship to another. In 1991 Maryann Jacboi discovered 15 definitions of mentoring across educational, psychological and management literature. Essentially, as a mentor you will provide support to your mentee by listening, supporting, encouraging and giving advice and practical support for the benefit of the mentee’s personal and professional development.

Here are 10 top tips for being an effective mentor:

1. Check in with yourself

Before commencing any mentoring relationship, it is important to ask yourself whether you have the right skills to be a mentor and can commit to a mentoring relationship.

A great way to assess and monitor your skills as a mentor is to complete a Mentor Assessment Inventory. You certainly don’t need to be marking a 4 or 5 for every skill to consider being a mentor, if you are willing to grow and develop alongside your mentee. However, if most of your responses are 1s or 2s, you may wish to embark on a self-development program, possibly with the assistance of your own mentor, before looking to mentor others.

Every mentoring relationship is different and when considering taking on a new mentee you should also consider whether you have the right technical skills and experience to support them. If you both face challenges with the same skills, the potential mentee is likely to develop more working with someone who is particularly strong in the areas where they are weak.

2. Are you a good fit?

You may have the requisite skills and experience on paper, but are you and your potential mentee a good fit for one another? The mentor/mentee relationship is a very personal one, and if you don’t get on personally, it will make the relationship difficult and less effective. For a mentoring relationship to be successful, there needs to be a level of rapport that enables you to communicate openly and honestly with one another.

You may be a good fit at the outset but later find that the relationship is not working. If this becomes the case be honest with one another and call it a day. We encourage you to discuss the possibility of this occurring at the outset, how you will monitor the progress of the relationship and what will happen if one or both parties feel that it is no longer working.

3. Contract

What we are referring to here is a discussion with a potential mentee, which sets expectations regarding what they are expecting from you as a mentor and what you are expecting from then as a mentee. Being aware of each other’s expectations ensures you start on the same page and prevents confusion arising at a later day.

Discussions should include formality, length, frequency and preparation required for meetings. Encouraging your mentee to prepare for meetings, set the agenda and being responsible for any follow up after the meetings will foster their autonomy and independence.

What opportunity will there be during your relationship? For example, can they shadow you, attend meetings or networking events with you?

What about feedback? While you, as a mentor, need to be able to provide constructive feedback, it is important to know how your mentee would like to receive that feedback. Providing feedback in a way that your mentee finds difficult can result in the message becoming lost and, in some instances, create unnecessary conflict. As feedback should always work both ways, it is important to let your mentee know that you are open to feedback and how you would like to receive it.

The clearer you are at the beginning, the smoother the relationship will run in the long term.

4. Set goals

It a good idea to set an overall goal at the beginning of the relationship so you will both know if and when the relationship has been a successful one. For example, the mentee may want to develop skills and experience to apply for a promotion in the workplace by a set date. The setting of smaller goals or milestones are also recommended to break the overall goal down making it feel less overwhelming, help to keep you both on track and providing opportunities to celebrate successes and achievements – a little praise goes a long way.

As with any goals make sure they are SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound).

5. Be flexible

Although you have reached an agreement on how the relationship will work, don’t be too rigid and following the original plan for the sake of it. Communicate regularly with your mentee and discuss how things are going, what is working well and where could improvements be made? You may find that things are moving faster or slower than anticipated and your original schedule is no longer appropriate.

You and your mentee may decide that you want to try coaching, interview preparation, attending a networking event together or going for lunch as an alternative to structured meetings that you may have been having.

6. Open and honest communication

Essential to an effective mentor/mentee relationship is the feeling that you can be open and honest with one another while remaining professional and respectful at all times. To develop mutual trust keep conversations confidential, so that your mentee feels ‘safe’ opening up to you. This will also help you to open up.

If your mentee doesn’t feel that they can open up to you, you run the risk of providing advice with a full understanding of particular situations and challenges.

As a mentor sharing the good, the bad and the ugly of your own experiences is beneficial to your mentee. More often than not, your mentees can learn more from your past mistakes and failures than they can your successes. It may not be appropriate for them to walk the same path as you did. However, enabling your mentee to walk their own path armed with an awareness of the challenges they may be confronted with, and knowledge/ideas of how to overcome them will provide far more valuable.

7. Engage in active listening

Of all the skills required to be an effective mentor, active listening is arguably the most vital.  Active listening means that you actively hear what your mentee is saying, and not just passively listen. Demonstrate that you are actively listening with verbal (i.e. by saying things like ‘yes’) and non-verbal (i.e. sitting up straight, nodding your head) communication.

Resist the urge to jump in and tell your mentee what to do. Instead listen, ask probing questions and draw out of them what they know first. It is far more uplifting for your mentee if you help them to find the answer. And remember, although you may be highly experienced in an area/skill, doing what you would do in the same circumstances may not necessarily be the best thing for your mentee.

8. Take a genuine interest in your mentee.

A mentor/mentee is a personal relationship and for it to thrive you need to get to know your mentee. There will, of course, be a number of career orientated questions, however, also discuss their dreams and aspirations, what they enjoy doing in their spare time. Getting to know your mentee on a deeper level will enable you to build a much strong mentor/mentee relationship.

Having a confidant who genuinely cares and encourages your development is positively correlated with productivity (Gallup).

9. Share your network

Developing a strong professional network takes years of practice. Accelerate the process for your mentee by making introductions to your network. Valuable introductions include people who could provide valuable resources, support the mentees development in areas that you cannot, possible collaborator and potential referral partners. Consider accompanying them to seminar and networking events.

10. Reap the rewards

Mentoring can be a joyous and rewarding experience. It is difficult to explain the feeling of seeing someone succeeding and knowing that you have, in some way, contributed to the career and personal development of that individual.

As well as improving your interpersonal, communication and leadership skills, mentoring will give you an insight into the perspective of people new to the profession, who are often also from a different generation. You may come across new ideas, theories and technology that you may not be aware of.

Anyone has the potential to be an effective monitor and the benefits of doing so are substantial for both the mentor and the mentee.