Behind every successful person are mentors who helped them excel. That’s because mentorship opens doors for developing leaders, providing valuable guidance, advice and connections.
Mentors gain leadership skills in the process, too. They get to share hard-earned knowledge and make a positive impact. Workplace mentoring also helps train new employees and integrate them into the company culture, which allows everyone to be more effective.
Whether you’re a seasoned professional who wants give back or you simply want to support a colleague’s growth, being a mentor can be a rewarding role. But it also comes with responsibilities. Here are five ways to help you become the best mentor that you can be, and re-energize your own development in the process.
Making the most of the relationship
As a mentor, you’ll become a trusted adviser and role model to those you work with. To make the relationship effective for you and your mentee, it’s important to prepare in advance, set expectations early and offer guidance in a way that encourages your mentee’s growth.
1. Reflect on your career and assess your availability
Before taking on a mentee, think about your career path. What do you wish you knew before you started? If you could do it over again, what would you do differently? By reflecting on your trajectory, you’ll likely uncover insights you can pass along to those coming after you. On a practical level, it’s also important to prepare by checking your schedule. Consider if you have enough time to meet with your mentee regularly. A lack of attention and consistency can lead to frustration on both sides.
2. Establish rules of engagement
Mentorship can take many forms, so ask questions about what your mentee needs and hopes to gain from the relationship. Share ways that he or she can get the most out of your time together, such as by preparing questions in advance. Find out how your mentee likes to receive feedback. Choose a regular meeting cadence (monthly, biweekly, quarterly), location and time, and decide how you’ll communicate with each another outside of scheduled meetings.
3. Listen before offering advice
It’s tempting to jump in and give your mentee instructions about what you think he or she should do to be successful. But that can be a mistake because it can deprive your mentee of opportunities to grow. Coach your mentee to come up with ideas and solutions independently. Ask open-ended questions, like: “If you were guaranteed not to fail, how would you approach this?” or “What has worked in the past, and how can you apply that knowledge here?”
4. Offer constructive feedback
Part of your role is to help your mentee improve, which sometimes involves giving honest, constructive criticism. It’s your job to help your mentee understand blind spots and build on strengths, but do so with kindness. Before giving feedback, ask permission (“May I share an observation with you?”). Communicate thoughtfully and directly.
5. Share your slip ups
Great mentorship is based on vulnerability. Show your human side and open up about mistakes you’ve made in the past. Not only can your mentee learn from your slip ups, but disclosure also builds trust.
Remember that mentorship is a two-way street. Be open to learning from your colleagues, too. Mentoring can be a special, rewarding relationship if you’re willing to stretch and shift your perspective. By following these tips, you can help your mentee reach his or her potential and expand your skills in the process.