Do you have what it takes to be an effective mentor? While mentoring is a complex task and there are many mentoring skills required to be successful, if you focus on these top three mentoring skills, you will set yourself up for success. If you want to make a difference in your executive mentoring relationship, work on these important mentoring skills.
Sometimes, mentors go into the executive mentoring relationship with the idea that they will get to opine about their personal philosophy and give long-winded advice. However, the most important part of communicating in mentoring is listening, not talking.
Listening isn’t always easy. Many times when we are listening to another person speak, our mind wanders. We think about our grocery list, what we are going to do in the upcoming weekend, or formulate what we want to say next. Active listening is about showing the mentee that we are listening, through making eye contact, nodding our heads in encouragement, and giving other external signs that we’re paying attention. However, active listening is more than what happens externally; it’s also about what happens internally. Active listening is about quieting the inner thoughts and focusing on the other person. It’s about receiving the speaker’s messages without judgment.
To practice active listening, shut down your internal dialogue while listening to your mentee. Make eye contact, don’t interrupt, and paraphrase rather than provide opinions or interpretations. At first, it may be hard to keep your mind from wandering, but with practice and intentionality you can master this important mentoring skill.
Trust between you and your mentee is of the utmost importance. Without it, your mentee isn’t likely to allow themself to be vulnerable with you, and there will be missed learning and development opportunities as a result. A lack of trust in the relationship is one of the most serious mentoring challenges.
It takes time to build trust; however, the investment is worthwhile. There are two components of trust: your mentee needs to see you as competent, and also needs to perceive your motives as authentic. If this is an executive mentoring relationship, your mentee is likely to perceive you as competent based on your experience and title. However, your mentee will not assume your motives are good based solely on your organizational role.
The simplest way to build trust is to do what you say you’re going to do. Fulfill your promises, and make sure that you follow through on all agreements. Don’t overlook the little things: show up to meetings on time, give your mentee your full attention, and keep the content of your meetings confidential. While these small acts won’t necessarily build trust on their own, failing to do them sends a signal to your mentee that they aren’t a priority to you, and can erode their trust in you. If you give advice, you should make sure you’re following it in your own professional life. This means that if you expect your mentee to be vulnerable with you, you’ll need to be willing to be vulnerable with them, too.
We all need feedback from others in order to address our blind spots and grow. However, most people aren’t getting the feedback they need in their jobs. Many managers are too busy or don’t have the skills to give feedback effectively. In particular, women tend to get vague and unhelpful feedback, which can work against them when they want to improve and advance their careers (https://hbr.org/2016/04/research-vague-feedback-is-holding-women-back).
Therefore in executive mentoring, it can be helpful for the mentee’s development to receive feedback that they aren’t getting otherwise. When mentoring for leadership, mentors can be helpful to mentees by giving feedback on communication and interpersonal skills, for example. In executive mentoring, feedback becomes even more important, as others are often unwilling to give direct performance feedback to executives.
To give your mentee effective feedback, structure it using the Situation-Behavior-Impact (SBI) format. By using this format, you can provide helpful feedback without being judgmental towards your mentee. Start by describing the situation. Next, describe the mentee’s behavior. When describing the behavior, it’s important to focus only on what the mentee does or did, and not assign intent or motivations behind the actions. Finally, describe the impact that the behavior has/had on others, yourself, the organization, or whatever is relevant. Note that the SBI structure is value neutral, and feedback can be either positive or negative. The best pieces of SBI feedback are matter-of-fact and avoid loaded language. Try it out the next time you are communicating in mentoring.
These top three mentoring skills are the building blocks of executive mentoring. However, to truly be an effective mentor, it’s important to receive comprehensive mentoring training. An investment in online mentor training before meeting with your mentee will give you the confidence to make the relationship successful.