We firmly believe that just about anyone can be a mentor, provided it's something the person wants to do. (If someone doesn't want to mentor, forcing the person into a relationship would never be a good idea.)
While mentoring certainly comes more naturally to some people rather than others, anyone can learn the skills and develop the traits needed to be a successful mentor.
So what are these skills and traits? And what, exactly, does a mentor do? Read on…
An effective mentor is:
- Supportive: A mentor will encourage the mentoree to take reasonable risks that are likely to result in the mentoree's professional and personal development.
- Nurturing: A mentor creates a risk-free environment, meaning the mentoree will feel safe and comfortable sharing ideas, thoughts, dreams, weaknesses, challenges, and so forth.
- Protective: A mentor makes sure that the mentoree has all the information needed to make informed decisions. The mentor also provides the mentoree with critical knowledge and understanding of situations so that the mentoree gets the complete picture prior to taking any action.
- Honest: While a mentor should be supportive and nurturing, the mentor should also be honest. (The mentor won't be doing the mentoree any favors by lying just to make the mentoree feel better.) Honesty is especially critical when providing feedback. Honest feedback will help the mentoree know what they're doing well and what areas they can further improve/develop.
- Aware of Boundaries: A good mentor sets limits with the mentoree and understands that the mentor's job is not to create a clone of the mentor. Instead, the goal is to give the mentoree the freedom to develop in their own unique way.
A mentor should always bring a balanced perspective to any discussion. The mentor should help the mentoree see things from a variety of sides.
An effective mentor will offer:
- Time: The mentor needs to be willing to invest time in the mentoring relationship.
- Access: Mentoring cannot take place without contact. The mentor must be available to the mentoree based on what the mentor/mentoree agree on at the initial meeting (and, of course, while keeping the boundaries we mentioned above in mind). Note: Regular contact for shorter periods is more desirable than less frequent contact for longer periods.
- Credibility: The most successful mentors check their egos at the door and are transparent about what they know and, more importantly, what they don't This transparency goes a long way in making the mentor credible in the mentoree's eyes. Providing timely and accurate information is also an important part of credibility.
- Vulnerability: Mentoring requires a mentor to be willing to share their own successes and failures. It also means being willing to listen when a mentoree provides feedback that the mentor might not want to hear.
- Independence: Successful mentoring happens when a mentor focuses attention on the mentoree's needs and not vice versa. One of the benefits for mentors is the sense of satisfaction derived from mentoring. What's important to remember is that this is a by-product of the relationship and not its purpose. Effective mentors have a strong sense of who they are and do not become dependent on the mentoree.
If you're thinking about becoming a mentor, the best thing you can do is take our e-learning course, Maximizing Mentoring Success.