How To Be A Great Mentor

How To Be A Great Mentor

Many are likely familiar with the definition of “mentorship,” or the idea of being a mentor. In general, it’s a more experienced person within a business providing guidance to a more junior person. Unfortunately, there is some belief from workplace experts that mentorship has died or is dying, which is not a great thing for organizations, especially at a time when more and more workers want to be trained in deeper facets of their job. The good news is that mentorship has been tied to more impactful bottom-line results, so there’s a business case ready-made for it. But if you want to introduce mentoring relationships into your business or culture, where do you start? And how do you ensure that the mentors you bring into the program will be successful in their roles?

What do you need to start a program?

Starting a mentoring program is not as hard as it seems. Really, the key ingredient is buy-in. You need senior leadership to sign off that these relationships will be respected and supported and that time will be carved out during working hours to do so. Next, you need mentor volunteers. These can be managers, employees with specific skills sets (especially in tech), directors or higher, or in some cases peer mentors can be a great addition too. If you don’t have enough mentor volunteers, think about group mentoring instead. One mentor can work with a team of 5 or so instead of having a specific protege. However you do it, the idea is to get a group of inspiring people together that younger employees will be excited to learn from.

Once you have the resources and volunteers sorted out, it’s time to open the gates to your employees. Getting mentees can be as easy as an all-staff email or it can be more structured. Some company create “speed dating” events where more junior hires rotate through the mentors spending 5 minutes with each until a natural connection is made. Once mentors and mentees have connected, what do they talk about? It can be anything from career goals to professional development. Sometimes it’s just helpful having a role model at work who’s already walked the road you’re on. 

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The elements of good mentorship

Once you have your program rolling, what are the key traits of a successful mentoring relationship? Here are a few crucial elements that should always be in play:

1) The matching process: You need some similarity between the mentor and the mentee, be that job titles/department, or some outside interest (i.e. hockey, mountain climbing, etc.) You can let mentor-mentee relationships develop organically, meaning people naturally find their mentors over a series of work events and outside discussions, and then the mentor comes to get official training on the role — or you can have a specific matching system involving questionnaires and events between senior and junior employees to find the right matches. But make sure there is some degree of similarity between them; if they are totally opposite people in every way, the mentorship will not work.

2) Consistency: We had a former colleague who went to business school, and was paired with a local mentor. Because the former colleague was in school, his schedule was a bit more flexible; the mentor had a demanding job, and his schedule was not. The mentor cancelled four consecutive appointments and then eventually bowed out of asking to mentor business school students. As the old saying goes: “Most of life is just showing up.” If you are going to be a mentor, well, show up and mentor. To create a program, build in rules and expectations around what behavior the mentor and mentee need to follow. Respect is important and it has to go both ways. 

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3) Learn what the mentee wants: Is there a skill set that the mentee wants to be developed? Do they want to understand the business more, or how the revenue model works? Do they just want a place to bounce earlier-career ideas around? Determine what the mentee wants early on in the relationship to limit the amount of discussions that can feel meandering.

4) Can the mentor gain something?: The obvious answer recently is around tech or digital transformation efforts, where a junior employee might be more naturally inclined to understand those concepts. The best mentor-mentee relationships, though, are two-way streets, because the mentor will feel more invested if he/she is getting something from the relationship, as opposed to just imparting knowledge. So look for ways where the mentor can also be learning, whether that’s about Snapchat branding, current vernacular, or something else.

5) Listen: It’s hard to do anything well in business if you’re not listening. Being a good mentor — and a good mentee — often comes down to effective, active listening as well.

6) The Cheat Sheet: From a 2016 Hubspot post on “How To Make A Positive Impact On Others,” keep these 12 items in mind always:

    • Approach each mentorship differently
    • Set expectations jointly
    • Take a genuine interest in the mentee as a person
    • Know when to wait before giving advice
    • Approve your emotional intelligence
    • Don’t assume; ask
    • Be forthcoming about your own mistakes
    • Praise their accomplishments
    • Give more than you ask for
    • Seek out projects around skills they want to develop
    • Solve for the long-term
    • Lead by example

7) Failures: It’s OK to discuss failures in a mentorship setting. Not everything about your path through a company or a career will be positive, and not everything has to be shown as positive. Be vulnerable and transparent with your mentee when applicable. These lessons might actually resonate more than the success discussions. 

Mentoring helps everyone

Everyone needs to grow and learn to be successful in organizations. And most people’s attitudes and opinions about work are ultimately shaped by a mixture of their own experiences, their parents and grandparents’ worldviews, and the mentors they come across along their career path. Having the right mentor can be a massive boost to someone’s career trajectory too — but as mentorship is increasingly happening less, or so it seems, we need people willing to step up as mentors to the next generation to be even more effective. Actual mentors are worth their weight in gold, both to mentees who are growing their career and the companies hoping to keep them in place. So next time someone asks you out for coffee, keep these tips in mind. 


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