How to be an Effective Mentor? – Part 3

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This is the third and final article in the series on mentoring. Previously I’ve covered the basics of mentoring in “A Guide to Mentoring” and in the second article I gave advice to mentees on “How to be an Effective Mentee”. This final blog post is for those of you who currently are, or are planning to become mentors.  I will share with you some useful tips on how to be an effective mentor.

1. Be selective when accepting Mentee

The first step to being an effective mentor is to have the right mentee. Mentoring is all about people so you and your mentee need to be a good “match”. You should select someone you believe has potential to grow, someone that you have the right experience to mentor and someone you like. Someone you “like” doesn’t mean someone identical to you. You will learn more and value the relationship higher if you have a mentee that isn’t your junior mirror image. Being selective and finding a good match, means that you can’t say “yes” to anyone who might ask. If you believe someone is a good fit, agree to mentor them for one year and then re-evaluate the mentoring relationship to see if you want to continue for a longer period of time. In order to be an effective mentor, you can’t have too many mentees at a time.  In their podcast on effective mentors, Mark Horstman and Mike Auzenne recommend a maximum of two mentees at a time.

2. Care about your Mentee

The best mentors are the ones who genuinely care about their mentees and want them to succeed. The more you know about your mentee, the more effective you will be in mentoring him or her. Mentoring is not only about career development, it covers all aspects of life so it’s important that you get to know your mentee on a personal level –  learn about your mentees personal goals and interests, his or her dreams and aspirations. Nurture the relationship and foster trust by being professional and respecting the confidentiality of your mentoring sessions. Be encouraging and optimistic and show your mentee that you care about him or her.

3. Listen, listen and listen

Perhaps the most important advice to give to a mentor is to listen. There is nothing worse than a mentor who just keeps on babbling about himself/herself. Your role as a mentor is to be a sounding board. Ask open questions. Open questions typically start with “what”, “how,” “where,” “who,” “when” or statements such as “tell me about…” or “explain to me more about…” Examples of questions include:

  • What is your plan for achieving this goal?
  • What are the barriers stopping you from reaching your desired goal?
  • When do you plan to have this completed?
  • How can I help you accomplish this?

Maintain eye contact with your mentee and give your mentee your full attention. Turn off your phone, close your laptop and just listen attentively.

4. Give constructive feedback

Give your mentee constructive feedback – this is the foundation of the mentoring relationship. When you give feedback it is important that you do it in an effective way. Make sure to ask you mentee if he or she would like feedback, describe the specific behavior that you have observed, describe the impact of the behavior and discuss future behavior. If you want to have a reminder of how to give effective feedback refer to the blog post, “How to give effective feedback”.

5. Guide your Mentee –don’t solve the problems yourself

The goal of the mentoring relationship is for the mentee to advance in his or her development and reach his or her goals. The only way that can happen is if the mentee is faced with challenges that he or she can learn from. It’s important that you look out for your mentee and strive to protect him or her, but remember to leave room for learning. Make sure to guide your mentee, but don’t solve his or her problems yourself. A successful mentoring relationship is one where the mentee eventually can stand on her/his own and no longer needs your support.

6. Expect high performance

The final advice is to expect high performance of your mentee. The mentee is the one who should structure the meetings, take care of logistics, document goals and take notes on action items and commitments. Demand structure and accountability. Help the mentee set goals that are precise, measurable and time-bound and expect these goals to be documented. Ask your mentee for meeting minutes after your mentoring sessions and make sure you follow up on his or her action items. Praise achievement and provide constructive feedback when the mentee falls short.

Focus on the “bottom line”

Many mentoring sessions I have had have been over lunch or dinner – in most cases very pleasant get-togethers where we enjoy each other’s company. Being a mentor involves sharing your experiences, but you have to be cautious not to get carried away with social chit chats and storytelling.  As a mentor, it’s important that you help steer the discussions to focus on the mentee. You might be flattered when the mentee asks you to share stories about your accomplishments and achievements, but don’t go down that path. You only have limited time so make sure to focus on the bottom line – a skill which is very valuable in other situations as well I might add!

(If you have difficulties reading this article, you can access the full article in pdf here)