Being a valuable and dedicated mentor isn’t only about sharing your knowledge and experience with the next generation of professionals in your industry. It’s also about recognizing more about yourself. It’s about performing a duty that can’t be priced. It’s about being part of a rich, fulfilling, and mutually beneficial relationship.
It’s about being prolific.
1. Arrange It, or Don’t
If you realize you’re ready to mentor a bright young professional or entrepreneur, seek out a proper candidate. Drum up some interest within your professional network and social circles. Get the word out, and consider the following tips for finding someone to mentor:
- Examine yourself. Think about your strengths and weaknesses and what you have to offer to someone new to the industry. Write down a few professional highlights, profound moments in your career or lessons that you’ve learned and would eventually want to share.
- Recall your former self. Surely you’ve progressed over the years. Try to remember who you used to be and what you wish you could tell your younger self. Although your industry has likely changed, there are certain things that always stay the same, such as the desire to find a mentor or mentee.
While it’s perfectly acceptable to actively look for a mentee, it’s best to remember that the greatest mentor-mentee relationships evolve organically. The situation will likely present itself when you least expect it.
Perhaps you will brush elbows with your prospective mentee at an industry event and later find yourselves enthralled in an engaging conversation. Before you realize it, a mentor relationship has sparked. Allow things to progress naturally.
2. Practice Active Listening
Once the relationship is established, nothing is more important than active listening.
Aim to interest your mentee, but don’t be overbearing. This individual is not your child, or someone who needs to be scolded or coddled. She is a professional with personal goals and experiences different from your own.
Listen well. Ask questions. Create a safe, trusting environment that is conducive to deep and meaningful conversations.
3. Be Available
Once-a-month lunch meetings typically aren’t very beneficial. If you’re going to be great mentor, you need to be accessible. Mentees place a great deal of trust in their mentors – don’t let them down.
Be there when they need a pep talk before an important presentation. Read over that business proposal to ensure it’s just right. Do what you can to make the relationship helpful. Be supportive.
To witness your mentee at a critical moment, one of those moments where something just “clicks” for them, is priceless. Moments like that are what it’s all about. It’s not about rushed lunch meetings and small talk of industry news. It’s about connecting as human beings and witnessing the profound.
4. Have Empathy
Remember you and your mentee are at different stages in your lives and careers – and much has changed in the business world. There are things your mentee is dealing with that you did not face. You probably faced struggles that your mentor will never experience. It’s not about examining similarities and differences.
It’s about understanding and empathizing, and offering a safe place to troubleshoot, listen and connect.
5. Be Honest
If you sugar coat everything for your mentee, you are not doing her any favors. If you sidestep tough issues, you’re missing out on a valuable learning experience.
And the next time that learning opportunity presents itself to your mentee, you might not be there to help her through it. Tackle the issues that arise – the good, the bad and the ugly.
Give your honest opinion, praise, and yes – even your honest (but constructive) criticism. Part of being an excellent mentor is saying “I wouldn’t do that” or “This is what I would do if I were in your place.”
If you’re in the right mentoring relationship, you have no problem with your mentee’s name being connected with your own. Share your contacts with her and introduce her to other people you know in your industry. Part of being a great mentor is helping her make new connections in the field – even when that connection is her next mentor.
7. Know When to Let Go
The time will come to let go, and that’s okay. You will know when it’s time to cut back and begin to meet less formally. When it’s time to change the relationship status from “mentor-mentee” to “friends,” “colleagues” or “professional relationship,” you will smile confidently at a job well done.
You just made a prolific, meaningful impact on someone else’s life. Congratulations.