Are you new to mentoring? Or looking to improve your coaching skills? Being a mentor is a big responsibility. It means someone trusts you enough to have you impart your wisdom on someone else! In my experience, there isn’t a lot of training provided on how to be the best mentor you can be, let alone general training. You sort of just figure it out on your own, try different approaches, and see what works. While mentoring others may come easily to some people, it’s not always intuitive.
While I’m no expert, I’ve spent many hours on both sides of the table: as both a mentor and a mentee. This has given me perspective on what works and what doesn’t. In fact, I recorded a YouTube video a few years ago about how to be a great mentee, so be sure to check that out as well.
Here are some key insights I’ve gleaned both from successfully mentoring others as well as from being a mentee.
Understand your mentee’s goals.
To establish a strong foundation, it’s essential you understand your mentee’s goals both for the mentorship as well as more broadly. Are they new to their career and looking for guidance about finding their voice and establishing themselves? Are they looking for advice about how to handle a specific challenge? What are they looking to get out of working with you? Where do they want to be in 5 or 10 years from now? What’s important to them? What areas are they looking to develop or expand?
The way you mentor someone who is looking to stay in the same role for the next 10 years is different from how you would approach someone who has aggressive career goals. And your advice will be most effective if it’s relevant to your mentee’s goals.
In your first few sessions, spend some time delving into these areas. Listen not only to what your mentee is saying, but what they aren’t saying. You may find there is more to their answers and you can better coach them the more you understand.
Listen more than you talk.
It can be temping to share as much guidance and insight as possible in your mentorship sessions, but the reality is that you can often accomplish much more by listening. Ask your mentee questions and listen to their responses.
This will better equip you to understand their needs and give you the time and space to formulate thoughtful responses.
Share your stories.
Where you can, offer a story from your past. Have you overcome something your mentee is struggling with? How did you handle similar situations in the past and how did they turn out? What did you learn from past experiences?
In the right context, a story can be the most powerful way to illustrate a point. It’s a real-life example that can bring a point to life in a fresh way.
Help your mentee find the answers.
A good mentor provides solid advice. A great mentor asks the right questions to help their mentee uncover solutions on their own.
Have you ever had an “a-ha” moment where, by answering someone’s question you were able to figure out a problem? Sometimes all it takes is being prompted to think about things in a new light.
Let’s say, for example, your mentee is struggling with anxiety about presenting at meetings. They come to you and ask what to do about it. Sure, you could give them a list of 5 tactics to try. But you could instead probe deeper into what it is about presenting that makes them anxious. Is it a bad experience from the past? A lack of knowledge in the subject matter? A lack of self confidence? Nerves about speaking in front of a large audience?
Honing in on the specific drivers of their anxiety can help you both offer more constructive guidance as well as queue up additional questions and discussion. If your mentee is lacking knowledge about the subject matter, you can brainstorm ways to round out their understanding.
Asking the right questions can also be a tactful way to give your mentee constructive criticism about a situation. And helping them uncover it on their own may make the feedback that much more powerful.
Being a mentor is a big responsibility that shouldn’t be taken lightly. By following these tips and really catering your approach to your mentee, you have the potential to make a big impact on their lives.
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