Becoming a great mentor is by no means a specific destination, but a journey with starting point and a constantly changing end point. To be effective at different stages of this journey, a mentor needs to keep his or her mind open, constantly add value, help the relationship evolve and play different roles at different stages.
A few suggested rules of achieving success in mentoring:
1. Be a role model
A great mentor is a complete role model. He or she needs to make an impact beyond professional success. In addition to the knowledge, expertise, guidance and direction that a mentor is supposed to provide, the overall impact is measured by the quality of communication, as well as the strength and integrity of character and the ability to inspire.
2. Be empathetic
Putting oneself in the shoes of the mentee is a key aspect of the relationship. Understand and evaluate the mentee’s situation while providing advice, coaching and guidance. Without understanding, any form of feedback and guidance may sound unrealistic, impractical and/or irrelevant.
3. Help in evolving strengths and diluting weaknesses
Mentors do not (and should not) have responsibility for character transformation. Great mentors should enhance personality strengths and find workable solutions for weaknesses.
4. Listen effectively
Great mentors are effective, engaged, focused and sensitive listeners. They listen with intent and purpose. All forms of guidance and direction that are given back are influenced by listening.
5. Be open-minded
No two discussions, requests for advice, guidance or direction are alike or driven by the same considerations. A great mentor needs to keep an open mind. The openness should be around tailoring advice and suggestions, as well as helping in strategizing and improvising.
6. Have great patience
In a mentoring relationship, patience is truly a virtue. There will be moments of frustration, annoyance, miscommunication and lack of understanding. Great mentors rise above periods of frustration.
7. Display commitment
Commitment is a virtue that needs to be equally practiced by both the mentor and mentee. A great mentor can play an invaluable role in shaping the commitment levels of the mentee, in addition to keeping their own commitment levels high.
8. Educating and passing on
No mentors are expected to know everything or have answers to every question. Effective mentors do not let the lack of knowledge and answers disable them from giving good guidance and direction. For questions they do not have answers for, they tap into their larger networks, educate themselves and pass on the knowledge to their mentees.
9. Be privy to the personal side
Questions about career transitions will come with doubts on confidence about things such as transitioning to senior leadership roles and managing teams. Having a broad and personal understanding of the mentee’s social, environmental, financial and individual circumstances always helps in providing sound and practical advice.
10. Tailor advice to circumstances
Every piece of advice, guidance and feedback can only be valuable if it is tailored to a specific circumstance. Effective mentoring involves providing situation-specific advice as the relationship evolves and the mentee’s professional and personal life stage changes. Advice does not need to be perfect – it needs to be relevant and practical.
Mentoring is not for everyone. It requires commitment and a true sense of interest in helping guide and develop mentee’s careers. However, if you are up for the challenge, it’s one of the most rewarding work experiences.