Mentors have vast wisdom and experience to offer those coming up in their fields, but it’s important to make sure that the career advice you give is actually relevant and useful. There are 3 basic principles for cultivating a great mentor/mentee relationship.
- Make sure your advice is relevant
- Create a relationship of depth
- Listen carefully and ask the right questions
With these principles in mind, here’s how to make an impact as a mentor, even if you and your mentee come from different backgrounds, generations, or even professional industries.
How to Make a Difference as a Mentor
Continue learning about your industry.
While your experiential knowledge is likely very valuable, it is important to make sure the advice you give is relevant and current. What worked a decade ago may not be applicable today. Continued professional development is essential, especially in the current climate when circumstances seem to change daily. Keep an eye on trends and developments in your industry so that you can be confident in your advice.
Pump up your EQ
One of the most important attributes of an effective mentor is high emotional intelligence (EQ). Cultivating your EQ means being able to recognize the emotions of yourself and others. Sometimes, especially when someone is feeling emotional, they may not see the full picture. It’s your job to help them identify these emotions and look past them to find a pragmatic solution or path. In addition to getting to know your mentee’s background and tendencies, pay attention to the words they mentee use, inflection of their voice, and their body language.
Adopt a coaching style.
Mentoring lends itself to a coaching style of management, one in which you guide the mentee instead of telling them what to do. The discussion is more open ended than directing, and your job is to use that discussion to ask important questions and help them explore different solutions. This will not only challenge their assumptions and thought processes, but help them to solidify their decision-making processes. Keep your conversation “real” by avoiding buzzwords, jargon, or complicated metaphors.
Ask the right questions.
People process new information and ideas best when they’re able to do it in their own way, so resist the urge to give advice up front about what you would do in a given situation. Instead, ask your mentee probing questions that will empower them to make their own decisions. Examples include, what options have you considered so far? What have you done in the past, and why or why didn’t it work? What do you think would be the best way to move forward? Then once you have a good handle on their mindset around the issue, you can certainly give your advice; but it’s often helpful to also frame your advice in the form of a question as well. For example, have you considered…? What do you think about…? This way, you aren’t preaching or seeming condescending, but instead giving them options.
Be an active listener.
Sometimes it’s easy to assume what your mentee wants or needs. Being an active listener can help prevent you from falling into that trap. Being an active listener means not only listening to what your mentee is saying, but what they are also not saying. Does it seem they are avoiding an issue? Are they having trouble nailing down what they want to know from you? If something doesn’t sound right to you, ask detailed questions, and dig deeper into the issue.
Share your mistakes and missteps.
Part of your role as a mentor is to share the bad along with the good. Owning your mistakes and being honest about them can provide value to your mentoring relationship. Not only can you share how the mistake was resolved so that your mentee can apply the approach to their own career, showing that you aren’t perfect goes a long way in creating depth in the relationship. Your mentee will be more likely to feel a connection with you if you are real about your triumphs and failures.
Go beyond the office.
Getting to know your mentee’s work and problem solving styles is great, but getting to know them as a person is just as important. What are their aspirations and interests? What do they love and what can they live without? What are their hobbies and what is their home life like? Understanding who your mentee is as an overall person – inside and outside of work – will help you to better contextualize your responses and make them more meaningful.
Remember: Your mentee isn’t coming to you for friendship or to be coddled. They are seeking real solutions to problems, or real direction to help propel them on their career path. Be sure to say what your mentee needs to hear, and not what they want to hear…and then empower them to make good decisions.
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