Helping others evolve and grow professionally extends your career legacy far beyond your tenure, so treat your role as a mentor as both an honor and as a responsibility. To help forge a meaningful relationship, consider these “do’s and don’ts” from other leaders who have experienced the joys and challenges of taking on this important position.
What does the person hope to gain from this experience? You won’t know until you ask. Jackie Stone, CMO of MiMedia, suggests starting with the question “How can I help you?” as a welcoming, nonthreatening way to open the door to conversation. “A big part of mentoring is to be able to help the other person open up and express thoughts and concerns,” Stone says. “This question also helps me as a mentor understand where I would be most helpful. The more a mentor knows, the more he or she can help—especially when it comes to defining the specifics of the request.”
Think you’ll spend most of your time doling out pearls of wisdom? If you’re doing your job well, probably not.
“Have two ears and one mouth,” says Bryan Clayton, CEO of GreenPal and a mentor to other budding entrepreneurs in Nashville. “As a mentor, you need to spend 90% of your time listening and understanding the context of the situation of your mentee and 10% diagnosing and offering feedback and help. So often we believe that we have seen and dealt with the situation that the mentee is dealing with. However, I have learned the hard way that it pays off to listen more and talk less to be more effective.”
Why should the mentee be the only one to benefit from the relationship? Look at your connection as a two-way street in which you can learn new things and strengthen your leadership skills.
“Be open to learning from your mentee,” says Lisa Chau, PR Manager for Watertree Health. “By actively listening and talking with your mentee, you’ll discover ways to reach your fullest potential as a mentor. Also, mentees can provide value insight from a different/new perspective.”
Accept without thinking
Feel obligated to take on a mentee out of pride or pity? You might be setting everyone up for disappointment.
Serial entrepreneur Rafiq Punjani, an ambassador for the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce and a mentor at Futurpreneur Canada, recommends seriously pondering two questions before saying yes:
1. Can you make the time commitment? The mentor/mentee relationship requires investment at both ends. As a mentor, you will be having regular meetings and providing ongoing guidance for your mentee, which will take considerable time. Only commit to being a mentor if you believe that you can do the relationship justice.
2. Can you fulfill the mentee’s needs? Some mentees seek guidance in a certain area. If you believe that you are not the best person to cater to such specific needs, be open and candid about it at the initial stage. This will help you save time and energy, and the mentee will instead work with someone who can help him in such areas.
Rush the relationship
How hard should you work to help your mentee succeed? While your intentions may be noble, pushing too hard or jumping in too fast deprives your mentee from thinking, growing and problem-solving on his own. Likewise, you stand to lose with hasty actions such as immediately opening up your network. “Mentors should work with their mentees until they fully understand his or her knowledge, skills, experience and integrity and are comfortable sharing appropriate networking opportunities,” says Lisa Quast, author of Your Career, Your Way! and founder of the Wing to Wing Women’s Mentoring Project. “Taking the time to build trust is essential because mentors place their own reputation on the line when recommending mentees for job opportunities.”
Finally, what’s the quickest way to make your mentee regret ever asking for your assistance? Becoming a dictator might top the list of responses. Mentoring should never be seen as permission to micromanage someone else’s career.
As Punjani notes, “Be clear to the mentee that he/she does not have to do everything you suggest. The person should understand that mentorship is mostly a discussion where you will share your thoughts. But ultimately, individuals should make decisions which are in their best interest, based on their own judgment.”