Some of the most important professional relationships aren’t necessarily the ones between bosses and employees or clients and service providers but the ones between mentors and mentees. Countless managers and executives turn to mentors as a first line of defense and support when they’re faced with a challenging situation in the office, since these men and women can provide well-intentioned advice backed by the benefit of their own experience.
While mentoring relationships are rewarding for both parties, becoming an effective mentor is not as simple as inviting a younger colleague to listen to your musings. To be a truly effective mentor, there are several key points to consider.
Establish Ground Rules
Like snowflakes, no two mentoring relationships are alike, so mentees may initially be left in the dark about what to expect from you. This ambiguity can make it difficult for mentees to reach out to you—they may be unsure how to contact you or what issues they can bring to your attention for discussion—and it may even leave them less inclined to actually accept your guidance. You can avoid this dilemma by setting a structure for the relationship at its outset: Decide on a preferred method of communication, topics to work on together, your goals for each other, and so on. Setting expectations for each other will help to quell confusion and ensure that you both start out on the right foot.
Avoid Savior Syndrome
It’s a natural reaction to want to shield your mentee from the mistakes that you may have made when you were in their shoes, but it’s precisely those mistakes and the lessons they taught you that make you such an effective mentor. Offer your mentee advice, but leave them free to make their own mistakes so that they can develop valuable experience and have teachable moments of their own. Then, after the fact, you can debrief about what they learned or how they can take away from that mistake—and you can help underscore the point by sharing some of your own mistakes and how you moved on.
Be Open to Learning
As a mentor, it may feel like mentees are simply there to soak in your wisdom, but it’s really more of a two-way street. While your mentee will have a lot to learn, you can also pick up a thing or two from them by listening to their ideas and keeping an open mind about how they approach situations. And seeing that you are open to advice will make them more receptive to your guidance!