Whether you take it upon yourself to be a mentor or were assigned the task, grooming another person in their role is a high honor that should not be taken lightly. You will likely learn a lot about yourself in the process. Understanding these concepts could change the outcome of everyone’s goals for the long-term, creating lifetime lasting impressions on both of you.
1. Mentor More, Teach Less
Your involvement as a mentor is not necessarily to teach rote memory items that can be learned in a book. That’s what books are for. Your role as a mentor is to fill in the gaps, help analyze situations, and help your mentee build good habits for their role and company culture.
Tip: Own their mission and view the world through their eyes. Have your mentee learn the technical aspects on their own if possible (through books, notes, online training, etc). Have them show up prepared to utilize what they learned, while you work to identify the gaps by making their goals your tasks.
2. Do Not Assume
Each individual is unique and has something to offer. No matter how young or new to your organization, each person has varying cultures they were raised in, different intuitions, and different skillsets (yes, even brand new they will have skills). It’s quite possible that someone half of your age and brand new could be better at something than you. They may have had life experiences that help them reach a better conclusion than you can coach them on. When you mentor another person, you’re never starting with a blank slate.
Tip: Learn what your mentee values both professionally and what they’re like outside of work. Learn about where they’re from, their family, what motivates them, and what irritates them. Keep an open mind so you can learn what they really need help with.
3. Eliminate Blind Spots
What may be obvious to you might never occur to the mentee. Help them to identify process areas that they are overlooking. Your goal is to calibrate their anticipations.
Tip: Role play before a meeting or event. Ask to see your mentee’s preparation plan and ask what they are anticipating. You may find that what they are expecting to happen is vastly different than what you know will happen. Your job as a mentor is to steer these anticipations toward success before and after events.
4. Stay in the Shadows
As a mentor you are the navigator. Not the driver. Unless the mentee is brand new, your mentoring becomes less effective if you find yourself interrupting or performing your role in the public view. Even if you only correct your mentee on one item in front of others, the hundreds of items your mentee is learning behind the scenes is still invisible to the crowd. If the corrected error repeats itself, the crowd may perceive this as if the mentee can’t even follow one basic direction.
Tip: Instead of correcting your mentee in front of others, ask a question (to the mentee or to others) that may lead them into the right thought process. Afterwards, explain to your mentee why you asked that question so they can work to improve privately.
5. Own the Failures, Give Away the Successes
Failures: If your mentee gets hit in a blind spot, fails to anticipate something, or stumbles on understanding how technical details correlate to their active situations, this is possibly a failure on the mentor or both of you. If you can justify how you’re able to distance yourself from too many failures, you may need to be a more active mentor.
Successes: If you’re a mentor it’s likely that you’re established in your role and reputation; when your mentee succeeds, you don’t need on-the-spot acknowledgement. The people who matter will know that you were the duck – calm on top of the water, paddling like crazy underneath and behind the scenes. Longer term, if your mentee becomes a rock star in your organization, they will be giving credit to you for many years anyway.
Tip: Brag about your mentee’s successes. Your mentee is developing a reputation and everyone will see their failures. Their successes will often be subtle obstacles they overcome through your help behind the scenes. Make those successes visible to others for them, as many new people will be too humble to brag about themselves in new organizations.
Please share any personal experiences you have had either as a mentor or mentee. All of our situations are unique, let’s all learn from each other.