What made you become a mentor? Maybe you wanted to extend your reach and impact beyond the quotidian. Maybe you experienced the benefits of mentoring and wanted to give back. And what’s next once you don this mantle? You might be oscillating between teaching, supporting, and assessing your mentees, wondering about your role in their development (Peiser 2018).
Answering the classic W and H-questions might help you to think through the mentoring process.
WHAT do I have to offer?
Reflect on your career path and particularly your mentors. What qualities did you appreciate in them? What resonated with you about their mentoring style? Also reflect on your managerial style. What aspects of your persona in the professional world do you want to leverage as a mentor?
It might take some trial and error until you find your unique mentorship style- just as it took you some time to find your managerial voice.
HOW can I help my mentee?
Assess your mentee’s needs before assuming that the style that worked with one mentee would work with others. Being cognizant of the uniqueness of your mentees will show you the way you can serve their needs best.
Practice active listening and resist the urge to complete mentees’ sentences, thoughts, or overlay your experiences on theirs. Mentoring is like helping unravel tangled thread. You can work together with your mentee to show how to untie the knots, but let them create their own designs.
Next, create SMART goals for your mentoring relationship- specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timed. These should form the discussion agenda during your conversations and be revised as your mentee evolves into new roles or life phases. Identify what success should look like for your mentee: is it a promotion, better negotiation skills with family, a product launch?
The Other 3 Ws
Let’s flesh out the other three Ws- when, where, and why.
When and where you offer mentoring support really depends on your and your mentee’s needs and schedules. Along with a set schedule (for example, once a month meetings), spontaneous (online) check-ins help tremendously in a productive relationship. Mentees look upon you as a beacon of hope in their times of turmoil. Be there for them and build trust.
Mentoring doesn’t need to be driven only by mentee goals. If you read an article or see a video that makes you think of your mentee, send it along. And encourage your mentee to do likewise, because the best mentoring is mutually beneficial. Bokeno and Gantt (2000) have termed this “dialogic mentoring,” a way of overcoming the fear of being judged through shared mentor and mentee experiences.
And that brings us to the why of this relationship. What is the value proposition for you? Mentoring can be a fulfilling experience, akin to creating art or nurturing a garden. It is a new way of approaching your own productivity, your professional advancement and satisfaction.
Having said that, mentorship is all about the mentee. As a mentor, your ultimate goal should be enabling your mentee achieve skill building and decision making based on the blueprint(s) you provide them during your timed mentoring intervention. Once the mentee has reached her desired goals that she set with you, it might be time to dial back.
To adapt a known adage, “If you mentor somebody, set them free.”