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Mentoring – The Basics

totem-mentoringLet’s go over more of the do’s than the dont’s…

Many of us have been mentoring for years without ever receiving training on how to do it. In a sense, that’s no bad thing – you don’t need training in order to give good advice. And yet for that advice to be taken on board and applied, there are some things we can do to be even more effective mentors.

What is mentoring?

If you’ve ever been asked to advise or counsel a colleague, you’ve been a mentor. Essentially the passing on of advice, stories from experience, lessons learned etc. is mentoring. Through years of both mentoring and advising mentors, we have found that the most effective mentors do more than just give advice.

What makes an effective mentor?

The following features have repeatedly come up in feedback from mentors and mentees in what makes a great mentor:

Really be there – It’s so easy in our world of being busy, checking the phone, rushing from meeting to meeting, to not really be present in a mentoring session. There are just too many other things to be done. The best mentors really focus their time and energy in the moment to offer their greatest advice.

Be yourself – There is no other person you need to imitate or attempt to act like when mentoring. It is your personal experience and learning that your mentee wants to benefit from, so be honest, share learning and be yourself.  This includes being vulnerable, sharing what has not gone well and exploring how you both learn from that.

Listen – For you to offer great advice, you need to have truly listened. Make sure you are really paying attention to what the mentee is saying, how they’re saying it, their tone of voice and facial expressions – what are they not saying? This will enable you to offer far more support and advice.

Totem Gummi Bears

Stay on topic – The main criticism of mentoring sessions is that they can become nice chats. Avoid that by finding out what’s on the mind of your mentee and what they want to achieve – then stay on that. Avoid conversations that go nowhere by listening to their concerns and ideas, sharing your experience and advice, then asking them what they will do now.

Don’t let them off the hook with statements like “it’s difficult” – push them by asking “what could you do then?”

Support & challenge – A lot of us think we have to do one or the other, yet both is best. Be supportive through your understanding and empathy for what they are experiencing. Be challenging by encouraging them to think beyond the barriers, try new things, focus on the positive and learn from experience. Joining these together enables you to demonstrate understanding whilst pushing for progress.

Give credit where it’s due – Often we get carried away in the mentoring itself, so that we miss the opportunity to celebrate success and acknowledge progress made. Constantly review what has worked well, where learning and real progress has occurred – and celebrate!

How will I know I’m doing a good job?

This is a great question to ask your mentee.

We each define success differently and it is a great conversation to both define what is success generally for the individual, i.e. how do they know they have achieved something great, and also how they will judge whether the mentoring has been successful.  So don’t forget to continue reviewing the usefulness of your meetings by checking back against the mentee’s success criteria.

You will also find that asking this question early on builds a great deal of trust and openness between you, as you have shown that you are not assuming superiority.