5 tips on how to be a good mentor

Use these strategies to develop talent and help build the leaders of tomorrow.

Mentoring is an effective way to transfer knowledge, promote best practices and develop a strong talent pipeline in your organisation. It’s key to developing the next generation of leaders. But like any relationship it needs to be cultivated and nurtured, and requires time, focus, and energy. Mentors need to engage with their mentees and build a relationship of trust and confidence. However, this is easier said than done. Here are some smart strategies to help you out if you’re considering kick-starting a mentoring relationship.

1. Set mutual goals for the relationship
Ask questions to understand what the mentee would like to gain from the relationship. What are their work and personal development goals? In essence find out their reason and purpose behind the search for a mentor. Talk about both sets of expectations and how much time both of you can commit to this relationship. Then, together prioritise the key elements you’ll address, how much time you’ll spend on them and how much in depth you’ll go. Time is a valuable commodity for both of you. So you need to set clear expectations that are beneficial for both.

2. Listen, then advise
Mentors are often eager to share their wisdom, but it’s advisable to have a more restrained approach at first. Let the mentee first share his/her concern/opinion/ perspective. Ask leading questions to find out more and guide them towards a resolution. Don’t be quick to offer advise or a solution and impress with your brilliance. Rather, listen carefully to what he/she has to say before offering your opinion. Make them an equal partner in the conversation as well as the relationship. You never know what insights you might also gain.

3. But don’t provide all the answers
It’s often tempting for mentors to provide the solutions to problems mentees are struggling with. However, swooping in and playing the hero is not a good move for a mentor. They’re being unfair to the mentee with this sort of an approach. Instead, the role of a mentor is to question, probe, and push so that the mentee arrives at the solution through a process of self-discovery. Let them come up with the answers themselves and make their own decisions. Don’t deprive them of this learning process of thinking through hurdles to discover solutions.

4. Give examples instead of preaching
When you’re looking to give direct guidance, it’s best to do it through examples, rather than pontificating on the issue and taking the risk of sounding preachy. And when giving examples, showing rather than telling works much better. Seeing something in action is a lot more impactful that being told about it. It’s a way of modelling behaviour towards the desired result. Expose mentees to real-world examples to make your point.

5. Be cheerleaders
There might be times when your mentee is feeling insecure or is going through a particularly rough phase. During these periods the mentor has to provide reassurance and radiate optimism. Provide the energy that the mentee is lacking. Or maybe the mentee has an unrealistic idea that is seemingly too ambitious. Don’t shoot it down immediately. Give it a moment and consider if it could work. What would be required to make it work? Rather than thinking the negative, program yourself to first lead with the positive.

Photograph: Katemangostar/ 

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