How to be a Great Mentor (+ 4 essential notes for Mentees)
Including the word mentor & mentee to my vocabulary is such a new phase for me. It was one I was never really such fan of - for unknown reasons, one of which might be the fact that I never really saw it as a must have. Or maybe I did, but just from a distance. I took the good I saw in people, that I wanted to emulate, but didn't see the need to have a mentor-mentee relationship. While I’ve definitely successfully guided people through different phases - I often avoid the title.
Interestingly, I’m at the point in my life and career where I think it’s incredibly important. And perhaps much more surprisingly, people have begun to look at me as a possible mentor. In recent times, I’ve gotten so much requests about acting as a mentor to others. Many of these I have shied away from accepting, because I’m like ‘hold up, uhmm, I have no idea what exactly you want from me’. But then, I recently accepted to act as a formal mentor to someone - and I think it could have gone a whole lot better.
All of these factors, is the reason for this post. I know I can't hide from these mentorship requests, and I genuinely think it's a great honour. So it's important that I figured out all the tips to make it work.
Not forgetting the fact that more recently, I have seen a number of mentor-mentee relationships which have been super impactful. And the ability to pay forward to someone else all of your knowledge (especially those very much younger than you) is something so beautiful.
So, let's get into it shall we?
If like me, you were not a fan of the word mentor, let’s break it down. Simply put - a mentor is a trusted person whose advice and guidance you rely on. A mentor is one who consciously makes him/herself available for the mentee, keeping the latter’s best interests at heart.
Should a mentorship relationship last forever? Not necessarily. Like everything else in life, there are times and seasons. And so while one could last for years, another could last for a couple of hours. The former length of time is probably a bit more common as it provides an opportunity to build a solid relationship and see real growth and development.
What kind of Mentors are there?
When we think mentors, we often think people older than us - and that’s not entirely wrong. But mentors could include our mates and even people younger than us. Remember it’s about the experience and not the age. So we’ve got the:
~ Peer Mentors: usually in the same organisation, company or establishment , helping to settle in and learn the ropes, usually for a short time.
~ Career Mentors: this is a more common sort of mentorship. And in many cases are a longer term kind of mentorship, providing all sorts of guidance, support and network throughout a career journey.
~ Life Mentors: well, as can be deduced from the name, this is a mentorship that cuts across all life areas - relationship, well-being, finances, career. These may seem like such big shoes to fill as one person may not easily tick all the boxes. But the mentor need not have all the answers, but rather is able to guide you to finding all of the answers.
Now that we’ve got the basics out of the way, let’s see how to be a good mentor.
1. Believe in the Mentee personally and professionally!
This I think is absolutely key. If you do not believe in the mentee, it’s an absolute waste of time. As a mentor, you must have a strong belief in your mentee’s untapped or raw potential - seeing the possibility of that being tapped to the highest levels. Your role is to push the bar, towards achieving this, such that things that once seemed impossible, become absolutely do-able!
2. Be Committed & Patient
Being a mentor is no child play! It will take time, it will be inconvenient at times, it will test your patience! But, if you’ve offered to help someone, you need to follow through with the promise of being available and committed - especially when you think your mentee may not be giving it everything and could definitely do much better.
3. Set Clear Expectations, Listen & be Emotionally Present
If you do not know where you are going, you would never reach your destination. I think that’s an African proverb that is oh-so-apt. What exactly are you seeking to achieve with this relationship. As a mentor, what are your expectations of the mentee? Make this absolutely clear. Asides just having clear expectations, there should be a clear idea of how such expectations are to be measured. New job or position? Achieving a task? Learning a skill? Quitting a bad habit?
As a mentor, sometimes you tend to do a lot of talking. But, the ability to listen is such an important skill. Listen to what is both being said and unsaid. Be emotionally present and sensitive to decipher hidden thoughts that the mentee may be unable to voice out loud, but could potentially affect output.
4. Have your own Mentors & Network
If you keep giving out without receiving, you’re sure to get empty real quick! And we can agree how much of a disaster that would be. So, do not neglect yourself. Ensure you have your own mentors, whose wisdom you’re also tapping from. Asides that, it’s important to maintain a wide network - particularly as a life / career mentor. Mentorship is really not about having all the answers, but being able to connect your mentee with the right answers. Having a wide network ensures that this is the case!
5. Be a Role Model
A good mentor is a role model and leads by example. Not least because, the mentee sees, and is able to take away so much more from the behind-the-scenes of your life than the things that are said directly to him/her. A mentor should abide by the ‘do as i do, and not do as I say'. So as a mentor, it’s imperative to ensure that you are worth emulating and your advice would be worth its weight in gold.
6. Don’t get bugged down by structure
With mentorship relationships, it’s easy to get bugged down by structure, and in my opinion, this could often be more of a fail. There should be sufficient understanding between both parties to allow for a certain level of flexibility. So while it’s great to meet up occasionally and record progress, creating an overly rigid structure such as frequency and place of meetups, excel sheets for progress and structure for feedback could make the relationship feel more of a chore.
7. Celebrate achievement
I don’t think I’ll want a mentor who is constantly pushing and criticising, without taking time to celebrate any of my achievements - no matter how little. This spurs the mentee to know that something is being done right - even if there’s room for much more growth. So, be the mentor that celebrates every little milestone! And you’d see your mentee desire to achieve so much more - if only to receive a tap on the back from you.
In all of this, it’s important to be honest with the mentee. A mentor is not a person who ought to sugar coat the truth and cheer the mentee on needlessly. But with honesty, yet love and best wishes a mentor pushes and advocates for the mentee to attain and realise their full potential. Finally, it’s okay to realise when a mentorship relationship and failed or is not achieving the said objectives. Again with clear expectations, this should be measurable. And and at this point, it’s okay end the mentorship and if possible link the mentee with someone else who may be able to help. After all, nothing last forever….
As for Mentees, a couple of points:
~ Be smart enough to realise when you need a mentor. Do not attempt to navigate this life on your own. People have gone ahead before you and are able to make the path easier. But you need to be smart enough to know which mentor would suit you and to pick the right ones.
~ Chase your Mentors! - Having realised, number 1 above, it’s time for the chase. Your mentors are likely to be very busy people and may not be as readily available as you would like. Keep chasing. Make it work!
~ Put in the work: Sorry to say this, but your mentors are not there to do the work for you. In fact they are likely to push you to do more work. So you have to be willing! A lot of what they will offer is guidance.
~ Ask Questions! - Another African proverb says ‘a person who asks questions, never misses his way’. Don’t be shy to ask the silliest of questions. Your mentors aren’t there to make fun of you.
And with that, this post is a wrap, but not before I hear your views on this. What do you think of mentors and mentorship. Do you have some? Are you a mentor to people? What other tips can you add. Please share your wisdom for all!