How to be a Mentor

How to be a Mentor

The word “mentor” goes back to Homer’s Odyssey. Odysseus left his infant son in the care of a friend named Mentor. This type of relationship has grown to become the process whereby an older, more experienced person helps to guide and educate a younger person.

The concept has evolved into sometimes formal, sometimes informal relationships whereby a person helps and counsels another person. It is typically an older person counseling a younger person, but it doesn’t have to be.

At its core, it’s a relationship of trust between the two parties. The mentee must trust the mentor in order to benefit the most; and conversely the mentor must also trust the mentee. Both parties benefit from the relationship. In a typical older mentor to younger mentee, the older person can gain just as much as the younger.

As mentor, your job is to help the mentee gain perspective, make good decisions, be a sounding board, and be a role model.

So how to be a trusted mentor? These relationships can be long-term or short, and will likely change over time, but some basic principles for being a good mentor apply to all.

Be a great listener. In other words, spend more time listening than responding. Your inclination will be to jump in and offer solutions immediately; fight this impulse. Listen. Ask questions. Find out what is really going on. Help your mentee come to their own conclusions by asking leading questions and making observations.

Make a commitment to the relationship. Don’t just stick your toe in the water. Dive in with both feet. Make sure your mentee knows you are serious about this relationship and you’re serious about being a good resource. Be self-aware enough that if you don’t have the time or the emotional bandwidth to take on a mentee, then politely decline.

Make the relationship personal. Find out what makes your mentee tick. What are they passionate about? How do they see their career advancing? What is their dream job? Approach the relationship as you would a friend. Find out a little about their personal history and life. Share yours. This will enrich both the experience and the results.

Set expectations. Discuss and develop some goals. What does your mentee want to gain from the relationship? In what time frame? How will you communicate? How often will you meet? Make sure you both agree on expectations right from the start.

Utilize your emotional intelligence. We have a previous blog here about emotional intelligence so check it out if you’re new to the term. What can you tell about your mentee from their body language? How do they respond to challenges or problems? Be open-minded and again, listen.

Give more than you get. Like all relationships, you’ll get more out of it if you give more than you get. This is especially important as a mentor. Yes you will gain lots of insight from your mentee, but make this one of the times you put the adage “do as I do, not as I say” to work. Be a good example. Illustrate your integrity by acting with integrity. Wow, what a concept!

Care about the relationship. Again, like all relationships, that of mentor and mentee will be richer and more effective if you actually care about it. This is not something you can fake or “dial-in.” You must actually care and actually be present in the moment.

Yes, being a mentor is a big commitment. It’s a time commitment, an emotional commitment and a professional commitment. But think about the people who mentored or helped you along the way. Wouldn’t it be great to pay that forward?

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