How to be a great mentor

I became a coach because of mentoring.

When I looked back across my civil service career, I realised the most rewarding part of my job as a senior manager was the informal mentoring of my staff.

And the job that was closest to that was to become a career coach.

Mentoring someone, and helping them progress, is a privilege.

But it needs to be handled within a clear framework for mentor and mentee to get the most value.

This article gives you seven steps to be a great mentor.

1. Choose your mentee wisely.

Mentees can come from a variety of sources: your team; your organisation; friends or family; your wider network.

But be careful: our natural tendency is to want to help people like us.

But actually, a mentee will get most value from a mentor that is different in some way.

Echo-chambers are not the best places to learn and grow.

You probably only have time to mentor one or two people, so make sure they are people to whom you feel you have something to contribute, and a different perspective to provide.

2. Mentor them in the way that’s right for them

For me, this is the golden rule of management: as much as you can, manage people in the way they best like to be managed. You will get far better results.

The same is true for mentoring: some people will benefit from a more challenging relationship; others will be looking for something more supportive.

Or some people might need detailed structure; others might prefer something more ad hoc.

Discover this during your initial conversation, and then use it to…

3. Agree expectations and goals from the start

What exactly are you and your mentee aiming to achieve with this relationship?

  • Do they need a sounding board for problems as they arise?

  • Or do they have a specific goal they need help working towards?

  • How long is this relationship going to last?

  • How often are you going to meet, and where?

  • Who is paying for the coffees?

  • Will there be homework to be done?

All of these details need working out from the beginning, so there is clarity about the purpose of the mentoring, and about the dynamics of the relationship.

4. Mentoring is not training

Yes, part of the purpose of mentoring is to share your hard-won wisdom.

BUT the best way to do this is not to lecture your mentee on exactly what to do in a given situation.

Instead, help them find their own way: it is the best way to learn.

“What shall I do?”; “What do YOU think you should do?”

As a rule of thumb, listen and ask questions more than you talk.

(And watch out for personal biases - we all have them, but they can skew our perspectives. Stay as objective as possible.)

5. Share personal stories

People are story-obsessed: it is a really effective way to share learning.

So use your stock of personal experiences to illustrate points or guide your mentee to conclusions.

And don’t just use the success stories - sharing about the times when things went badly is also very useful, not just for the learning after the event, but also to help them realise it’s OK to make mistakes!

And to let them know you are only human too.

6. Be trustworthy

Don’t share the content of your conversations with others without your mentee’s permission - they will become reluctant to confide in you.

And if you promise to do something, then do it: hold yourself accountable to your mentee.

Yes, you are doing them a favour.

But they deserve that you respect your relationship too.

7. Celebrate success, empathise and support through set-backs

Hopefully there will be many more successes than set-backs, but whichever occur, show your mentee that you are on their side.

Feeling that you have a cheerleader, someone in your corner, is amazing powerful.

Work can be hard, lonely and stressful, and you get the chance to help someone thrive.

And thanks to the power of mirror neurons (where we are programmed biologically to feel what the people we are with feel), you will reap the benefits too.

So there you go - seven steps to be a great mentor.

A final thought: a lot of these points are also helpful when you are the mentee in the relationship.

But in that position, there is one particular point to bear in mind: as the mentee, you are responsible for driving forward the relationship.

You need to know why you want a mentor, how you want to work with them, and what you want them to help you achieve. It is not their job to do this for you.

But it is a massively powerful force for the good, so go and find one!

Good luck! xx

p.s. if you're interested in career coaching, where I can give you the benefit of my years of mentoring experience plus my transformational coaching training, get in touch!

p.p.s. to see this blog as a video, click here!

Things to do and consider

  1. If you are not currently mentoring someone, first think about what you would be seeking to achieve from the relationship - simply giving back? Building your knowledge and understanding of the perspective of more junior staff? Helping someone find a job, or helping someone get promotion?

  2. Second, think about where you might find someone who it would be good to mentor - from within your organisation? Family and friends? Through a mentoring organisation?

  3. And finally, consider your availability: how much time do you really have to commit to this? What are you willing to do between appointments? How long do you envisage it lasting? You need to have considered these before you start embarking on a mentoring relationship, to make sure that you both get the most out of it.