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How to Be a Great Mentor

How to Be a Great Mentor

If you are in business leadership, chances are you have already been called upon to be a mentor, and if not, you likely will be at some point. Being a mentor is much more than being a coach. A coach is responsible for tactical activity, but a mentor is responsible for helping to develop a person to their highest and best performance, which is far more strategic.

Some leaders confuse mentoring with just teaching or guiding – telling the mentee what to do or how to do it. But good mentoring involves helping a person to discover how to do things better on their own. Here are our ideas on how to be a Great Mentor:

Listen: Seek first to understand, then be understood. Exercise curiosity rather than judgment. Use the two ears / one mouth principle. Ask open ended questions to stimulate discovery. Really take the time to find out what the mentee needs.

Purpose: Discover what will be meaningful about the mentoring relationship for your mentee. What does he/she want to get out of it? Make sure you are working toward the mentee’s desired outcomes, not your own.

Learning Style: The education community has recognized a wide range of theories about Learning Styles. The basic modalities include Visual, Auditory, Read/Write, and Kinesthetic. As a mentor, you owe it to yourself and the mentee to figure out how the mentee learns best. Perhaps you are a talker, but he/she doesn’t really learn by an auditory method. Find an online Learning Style profile for your mentee, and you will be better equipped to transmit useful info.
Permit/Facilitate Mistakes: Author John Maxwell (and others) have increased our awareness of Failing Forward, seeing mistakes as stepping stones to success. Often, inexperienced people have to personally go through something the wrong way, to clear their head and prepare them for the right way. Be a facilitator and champion of this process. Your mentee will make mistakes anyway, and you can help them use mistakes as good information for the next time.

Embracing Conflict: Many people in business avoid conflict and seek consensus at all costs, often at the expense of a better idea that could have emerged from a solid debate on the merits of the choices. Help your mentee to experiment with productive conflict resolution. Show them how to attack ideas, explore alternatives, but never attack the person. 

Loosen the Rope: Mentors often seek to keep tight reigns on mentees, imagining that they, the mentor, knows the ideal pace for advancement or learning. Be a risk taker with your mentee – give them enough rope to hang themselves. You may be surprised at how an extra measure of freedom and autonomy for the mentee helps to create a sense of confidence and ownership that propels the person through and beyond limitations.

Be Accessible: As much as possible, provide open access for your mentee, so that when a burning question comes up, or a mistake or troublesome situation happens, you can be there to help. Open access will ensure that your mentee will reach out to you when you can actually be most helpful.

Congruence: A good mentoring relationship is characterized by congruence: It looks right, sounds right, and feels right – for both parties. Check in to make sure you are in alignment about goals, progress, methodology, etc., and that your mentee is getting what they need.

In summary, a good mentor is focused on the mentee’s needs, very flexible in approach, and strategic in orientation.  Taking this approach will help you be a Great Mentor, and your mentees will count you as a significant factor in their personal development.