Being a mentor is a fulfilling way to pass on your knowledge and share the rewards of your experience with someone. It’s also a great way to learn more about yourself – a point that the most experienced and effective mentors do not lose sight of.
This is just one of the many nuggets of wisdom that longtime mentors have learned over time. We will cover more soon, but first a small overview.
What is a sponsor? Are mentors chosen or do mentorships happen naturally? Are you cut out to be a mentor? Let’s work through this together.
Mentoring helps colleagues learn and form lasting bonds
Sometimes successful mentorships are the product of circumstance. And more often than you might think, the effects of successful mentorship are felt throughout the organization.
I once hired a former colleague (we’ll call Susan) into our communications team. She immediately let me know that she wanted to be a people manager. Susan’s enthusiasm and potential were evident.
She had the skills, experience and education, as well as the self-awareness and professionalism to excel. At the time however, the small team could not support another manager.
While I was looking for opportunities for Susan, a public relations student (let’s call her Emily) contacted me. She looked for a summer internship with us.
Prior to hiring Emily, I worked with Susan to structure a working relationship that would benefit everyone. As director, I would continue to lead the team. But Susan would oversee Emily’s daily chores.
Beyond that, neither Susan nor I really knew how to define her role. Would it be coaching or mentoring? Since neither of us understood the nuances of the two skills, we had to look up the definitions.
Mentor or coach?
A mentor is someone who shares their knowledge, skills and experience to help another person develop and grow. Mentoring often takes place over a long period of time and, like teaching, revolves around teaching and sharing knowledge.
Its purpose is for mentor to guide, teach and demonstrate specific skills. A mentor would typically be a few years further into their career and have a working knowledge of the skills needed.
On the other hand, a coach is someone who advises a client on clarifying their goals and helping them reach their full potential. Coaching is less direct and instructive. Through the coach’s use of asking powerful questions, the coaching is more inquisitive. Coaches and clients work together in mutually arranged sessions, often lasting 20 minutes to an hour at a time.
As a person spends time in the role of mentor, they learn some important skills that can strengthen the mentor-mentee relationship. Over time, a dedicated mentor can hone these skills, further cementing their legacy as someone who made a real difference in another person’s life.
7 Skills Experienced Mentors Have Perfected
1. They are a reservoir of relevant knowledge and expertise
Unlike a coach, a mentor needs knowledge and experience in the area of expertise that they need to pass on to the mentee. A mentor has “been there, done that”, but is still very engaged and enthusiastic about the subject. It is most effective when the mentor’s knowledge and experience are still fresh.
2. They have the ability to effectively share their knowledge, with the goal of helping someone else grow
In a career setting, mentoring goes much further and requires more commitment than orienting the mentee to their role. A mentor must be willing to invest in the growth of the mentee. They must be willing to make the mentee a priority until they and the mentor are comfortable with the mentee’s emerging skills and independence.
3. They offer heartfelt encouragement
A good mentor is neither a cheerleader nor an overbearing bully. Their goal is to encourage the mentee to take on challenges and demonstrate that they believe in the mentee’s ability to succeed.
4. They provide constructive feedback and advice
Helping them through challenges will involve providing constructive feedback and advice. The mentor shows respect to the mentee by waiting for the appropriate time and place for prompt feedback.
Then the mentor could share with the mentee the area of growth with a specific example of what they observed. The mentor would also explain the impact of the behavior and then stop to react. When it is clear that the mentee understands, the mentor suggests actions the mentee could take to change the behavior.
5. They model follow-up and follow-up for their mentees
Mentors should exemplify the behavior they want to see in the mentee. It is important to respond to a mentee’s requests in a timely manner. Good mentors will schedule follow-up opportunities and check on the mentee’s development progress.
A good mentor is genuine and honest. They don’t make promises they can’t keep. They are reliable. If a mentor schedules meetings with the mentee every Thursday at 2:00 p.m., the mentee is certain that they will take place, and on time.
6. They promote autonomy
Although mentors should be closely tied to the development of the mentee, this does not give permission to hover over and monitor every task. Rather than micromanaginga good mentor will give the mentee the ability to make plans and allow them to fail in areas where the risks are lower
7. They have mastered their listening skills
The best leaders are great listeners. Active listening skills are imperative for mentors. They make the listener feel heard and appreciated. They build a culture of trust. To encourage growth, mentees need to know they can ask their mentors anything
Even before a thorough review of a mentor’s skills, I instinctively knew that Susan possessed them. But what if you want to mentor someone but don’t feel like you have what it takes to be a mentor?
The good news is that you can learn all of these skills.
How to Acquire Mentoring Skills
It goes without saying that you already have the skills and experience that you want to pass on to the mentor. The rest is more about what’s really in your heart. If you can answer yes to both of these questions, you may be ready to start mentoring.
Do you really care enough about the subject?
If you don’t, the mentee will know and will not fully benefit from your mentorship. For both of you, mentoring will be an experience to be endured rather than enjoyed. If you do, your passion and enthusiasm will shine through, resulting in a much more positive experience and outcome.
Do you really care about helping others develop and grow?
This is the key. Again, going through the motions is hard to hide. Your mentee will sense how sincere your concerns are about their development.
The rest are intentional practices that you can develop over time with practice.
Related stories from YourTango:
Are you ready to be a mentor?
If, like Susan, you’re thinking about becoming a mentor, congratulations on taking such a big step! You may have reflected on your own career success and the people who helped you get to where you are today. You are mature and self-aware and realize it is time to give back.
Portrait of a successful mentorship
Susan, Emily and I were all new to the concept of mentoring not too long ago. Because we were all excited to learn and participate in the growth and development, the experience was a resounding success.
Susan carried out her role as mentor with the confidence and professionalism that I expected. The experience led her to further training in leadership. Soon after, she became a people manager and is now a director.
Emily developed her skills and contributed to the team in such a way that we could easily see her becoming a permanent member of the team. After graduating, she became an entrepreneur and started her own very successful business.
And I learned the difference between mentoring and coaching. For me, it was summer that sparked a new passion. I learned that a coaching career could satisfy my own desire for generativity. I signed up for a coaching program and five years later coaching became my full-time calling.
Imagine what mentorship could do for you.
More for you on YourTango:
Brent Roy, PCC, CPLC, CMC, is a Certified Career, Leadership and Personal Development Coach and Certified Mentor Coach. Brent can help boost your confidence to prepare for a promotion or a new career. For more ways he can help, contact brent.