Have you been asked to participate as a mentor in your company’s mentoring program? Feeling a little bit apprehensive because you are not sure what a mentor actually does?
Well, we are here help you to identify what your role as a mentor would look like. Think of it this way, we often break businessprojects down in two ways: strategy and tactics. Strategic responsibilities have us thinking about the big picture, the overall grand plan or expected outcome of a project. Tactical responsibilities are the tasks that need to be done in order to complete the project—the nitty gritty, if you will.
Mentoring can be approached in much the same way. If your company has a mentoring program, it is best practice for the mentoring program manager to define the overall goal of the program (the strategy) as well as to provide the mentoring pairs with a plan for their time together (the tactics). It is also best practice for the mentoring program manager to provide training for both the mentors and the mentorees. This training would include discussions about the overall goal that the company has set in place for the mentoring program. It would also include resources to be used during mentoring sessions including discussion guides, checklists, etc.
If, however, you are considering becoming a mentor and will NOT have the helping hand of a mentoring program manager, here is a breakdown of what mentors do.
Here is an overview of what mentors do strategically:
Facilitate, don’t clone. Your role is not to create another “you.” Assist your mentor in discussing issues that are important to him in his every day life.
Uniqueness is important. Help your mentor to bring out the best in himself. As they say on The Voice, “We already have a Blake Shelton. We don’t need another Blake Shelton. Who are you and what do you have to say?"
Consistency is critical. Make meeting times with your mentoree a priority. Obviously, there are times when a cancelled meeting can't be avoided. But don’t cancel consistently on your mentoree. This tells your mentoree that mentoring him is the least important task on your to-do list.
Provide honest feedback. Be careful not to sugarcoat. Your mentoree doesn’t want to hear that they are wonderful and have nothing to work on. This is his time to learn from you. He wants to learn from you. Don’t waste his time.
Empower rather than solve. This is an important lesson for all of us. There is an old Mars vs. Venus saying that goes something like “If a woman talks with you (her man) about her problems, DO NOT TRY TO SOLVE THEM! She wants you to listen, and encourage her to explore her feelings about the problem. What she does not want is for you to cut her short and tell her what to do.” Similarly, in mentoring, if your mentoree comes to you with an issue that he is trying to solve, empower him with the tools that he needs to solve the problem on his own, so that the next time he is faced with a similar situation, he is can consult his toolbox.
You are not responsible—you have shared responsibility. Many believe that the mentor is responsible for guiding the relationship. Not so! In fact, it may be a good idea to turn the relationship guiding into the hands of the mentoree. What does he feel is important in his professional development? Does he have specific topics he would like to tackle? You may be surprised at the amount of effort a mentoree will put into guiding the relationship and the type of ownership he will take.
Appreciate what you’re giving. You are giving your time and your experiences to another human being. This is not to be taken lightly. Enjoy the relationship and let your mentoree experience your enjoyment. Many of the mentors we have worked with believe that they got just as much (if not more) out of the mentoring experience than the person they were mentoring.
It’s not coaching; it’s mentoring. There is a difference. Coaching is more task oriented whereas mentoring is more relationship oriented. We have a whole white paper dedicated to this topic that may help if you are struggling with understanding the difference between the two.
Honor your limits and boundaries. It is important to know that not any topic a mentoree wants to delve into should be mandatory for your mentoring relationship. You are allowed to skip a topic and move on to the next.
Listening is hard but advice is easy. We could definitely use more listeners in the world. Be careful not to go into the relationship “too” prepared. See where conversations go and listen to your mentoree. He may want to follow the road less traveled. Open yourself up to traveling with him.
And just like the strategic planning of a mentoring relationship is important, the mentoring relationship will be more effective if there are a set of tactical parameters in place before beginning.
Here is an overview of what mentors do tactically:
Communicate. We can’t stress this enough. Whether by email, phone, Skype or text. Agree on the best form of communication together right at the start of the relationship.
Set and/or keep meeting times. During your first meeting together, discuss how often you would like to meet, what time of day you would like to meet and where you would like to meet.
Prepare ahead of time. If you have “homework” left over from a previous meeting, be sure to come prepared the next time. This shows your mentor that you care about his progress and that you are invested in him.
Suggest activities. It can be challenging knowing where to start with a mentoring relationship. A relationship can also go stale over time. We have lists of suggested activities to either start or re-engage a mentoring duo.
Schedule time for check-ins. You may have thought the mentoring relationship was going to go in one direction at the onset, but 6 months down the road you find that you are covering different ground. Be sure to schedule time to evaluate the goals of your relationship. If this check up time is automatically scheduled every three months, it may eliminate any awkwardness of one of the two of you having to bring it up.
So there you have it. What a mentor does is important. Approaching this role can and should be broken down both strategically and tactically.
If you have additional questions about mentoring, check out our white paper, 9 Important Benefits of Mentoring.