Any company seriously planning for future growth thinks about how to help employees grow skills the company needs. Any employee or job candidate seriously planning for her or his future growth thinks about how to get the skills they need. One approach to satisfy both needs: mentoring.
Mentoring offers a tool for a younger, less experienced employee to benefit from the wisdom of someone more seasoned in a setting that is more personal and potentially more powerful than formal training. Less understood are the benefits to the mentor — exposure to new ideas and new networks, and possibly the ability to help shape the future of the organization.
That said, fostering mentoring in a company is not as easy as it sounds. A certain amount of chemistry is needed between the two individuals; both mentor and mentee need to understand how to effectively interact; and, not to be underestimated, the mentor must understand why it is worth his or her time.
Here are some tips for effective mentoring:
What is said to a mentor needs to remain confidential. A mentee shares with a mentor their challenges, issues, barriers and more. The ability to speak freely allows for both parties to get the most out of the time together. The more trust, the better the sharing, the better the help.
Often a formal mentoring program includes a confidentiality agreement that provides the rules of the road.
Be a good listener
Ask questions that engage thinking. Yes, they should be challenging. Remember, your goal is to give the mentee things to consider. Then listen while they share their thoughts. Because good mentors are always learning, too, this can be a great opportunity to further enhance your listening skills.
Another good way to get a mentee thinking and engaged is to role play or brainstorm.
Motivate and encourage
The job of the mentor is to help the mentee grow and learn. Motivation and encouragement rooted in support for the mentee provides them with the confidence to reach beyond their comfort zone and grow. As a mentor, you will inspire your mentee. Sometimes offer a different perspective. Share personal experiences and tell stories that help them understand that they can achieve their goals.
You’re not responsible for giving them all the answers, just to help guide them. The goal is not to develop a mini-you, but rather to mentor the individual to become the best that they can be.
Make it a priority
Don’t mentor someone just to put it on your resume or to have “bragging” rights. When someone chooses a mentor it is because they believe they can learn from him or her.
Determine if you have the time and experience to be a mentor. Are you willing to share your thoughts and ideas to build and motivate another individual? Mentoring isn’t just something you do when you feel like it, it is a consistent, on-the-calendar time that you commit to.
Don’t make it a social event. Having drinks or going to a sporting event are not mentoring sessions. Instead, use your time together as an opportunity to demonstrate your professionalism. A mentee learns from watching you in action.
Set a regular time, if possible, so that each party can commit in advance and be prepared to make the session as productive as possible. Face-to-face meetings have long been the preference, however, if that isn’t possible, a phone call can work.
Enjoy — it works both ways
What I have found is that sometimes if you ask someone what they think about undertaking mentoring, they’ll say that there is little in it for them — just another time commitment. It is true that it takes time, but the value flows in both directions.
Mentees, of course, can advance beyond their current level of knowledge and fast forward years ahead by learning from the past’s wins and mistakes.
But mentors can also benefit from exposure to different ways of thinking and new networks of people. Most everyone wants to make a difference, and what better way than helping to shape the future of an individual, and potentially, the organization. You might also get a compliment or two.
Mentoring usually occurs over a limited time period. It generally isn’t meant to be open-ended. So, take the time to be “in the moment” with your mentee. Be genuine and supportive in your approach. They may turn to you again at a different point in their career — and, if so, that will be one of the best compliments anyone can give.