Mentoring - Successful People Never Achieve Their Goals Alone
In a quest to find a definition of mentoring, the term is often used interchangeably with leadership. While it is true that good leaders can make good mentors, the two roles have very different purposes.
Leaders of organizations have one main purpose: to drive the bottom line to maximize shareholder value. While very good leaders can accomplish this through their people, this is often done at the cost of managing ongoing performance, rewarding the achievement of short term goals and training on job specific knowledge and skills. In other words, the leader directs their people to achieve the leader’s goal.
Mentors, on the other hand, altruistically impart knowledge, provide wisdom and share experiences to help their mentee achieve long term rofessional and personal development.
Does this mean one is better than the other? Absolutely not. Successful people have many people in their corner, playing different roles. However, your current leader cannot also be your mentor at the same time. Mentorship needs a level playing field without hierarchy.
So what would make a good mentor? Skills and experience are obvious needs. More important is the ability to empathize with the mentee. Each mentee is different. Their background, level of job skills, self confidence and learning skills will vary widely. The mentor must be able to effectively manage the relationship. So how do you do that.
You must form a bond with the mentee. To do this you must feel a connection with them. Can you handle naivety, generational differences, cultural or gender differences to name a few? If not, it may not be the right match.
2. Listen and Learn
Focus on what your mentee is saying and analyze the content. Do not jump ahead to early conclusions but listen to the end. Then take a moment to formulate a response. You can do this by repeating the important points to be sure you have them correctly. This will also help you avoid assumptions.
In support of “Listen and learn”, ask questions to be sure you understand what the mentee is saying. The questions should make the mentee open up. “Yes” and “no” are generally answers to poorly phrased questions. Question openly as you would to a friend. Do not interrogate.
4. Back to Empathy
Apply your soft skills. Listen for tone. Watch body language. The mentee may be embarrassed by the discussion, they may feel stupid or naïve. Respond accordingly remembering that your resolution helps their soft skills and builds trust.
It is your turn to speak and impart knowledge and wisdom. Be direct and thorough in your responses but keep the tone that of discussion. If you do not have a direct answer, even the discussion will help your mentee assemble their thoughts. This is not a time to expound your great theory, preach, order or threaten. You must be direct even if you find the subject uncomfortable. Do not avoid the discussion.
6. Build Trust
Trust is the key in this relationship. Following the guidance above will help you do that. Other things that will help are the location of your meetings – best informal, the tone of the conversation, getting to know a little of your mentees personal circumstances, being punctual and being prepared.
7. Give Time
You must give freely of your time. Set meetings in advance and stick to them. Have an agenda however informal. When you can be accommodating as your mentee is likely much junior to yourself and less in control of their time.
8. Follow Up
Revisit previous meetings to see how your discussions played out. Use this as a learning tool. If you offer an article, book or contact then be sure you provide it.
Following this guidance will help you to get the most out of a mentor-mentee relationship. There are some pitfalls but most are easily spotted and avoided. You are not an emotional crutch, a job network, an accomplice or an all knowing guru.
Suzanne Wilson & Roger Andrews