What does it take to be a good mentor?

What does it take to be a good mentor?

Behind every successful person, you’ll often find a mentor who has helped them succeed in their career path in some way. Maybe it’s their manager from their first-ever job, or a more senior colleague that encouraged them to go for that promotion.

Although typically equated with graduates trying to work their way up the corporate ladder, mentors can be valuable at any stage of a person’s career. It’s important to note, however, that being a mentor can also be a valuable experience to the person doing the mentoring – if done right.

A good mentor doesn’t just transfer knowledge and take control of their mentee’s career, they:

  • Are respectful;
  • Are good listeners;
  • Engage in empathetic thought;
  • Take a genuine interest in their mentee.

The role comes with a lot of responsibility; so, here's what makes a good mentor, and 7 key skills to develop to become one...


What is a mentor?

Mentoring is typically when a more experienced employee within the organisation takes a newer employee under their wing as well as helping them adjust to their new role and what is expected of them during their onboarding process. This relationship also allows the company culture and values to be transmitted across generations. You can also find mentor programs in some industries outside of one company.

Mentoring is not to be confused with coaching, although the terms are typically used interchangeably. The former is a long-term relationship that aids the development and growth of a mentee by drawing personal experiences as a source of teaching and wisdom. The latter is done on a more short-term basis as the goal is to enhance or eliminate certain workplace behaviours, depending on what the person’s role requires of them.


Why is mentoring in the workplace important?

Mentoring is becoming an increasingly popular way of combating several organisational problems by:

  1. Reducing high turnover rates within the company. This helps mitigate the costs of a bad hire which is said to set companies back by at least 33% of the employee’s annual salary.
  2. Helping managers who may feel like they’re in the wrong job.
  3. Establishing a strong talent base at the organisation’s foundation so recruitment is sourcing talent internally for promotions.
  4. Providing a way for senior employees to get involved with more current organisational trends and immerse themselves in the company culture.

Research shows that mentoring has also been linked to higher pay, faster career advancement, greater career satisfaction, and overall well-being. Mentoring programs have also allowed employees to enhance their employability, motivation, communication skills, and job competence.

These benefits are particularly important as employees who are more satisfied in their role will be more committed to the organisation than those who are not. These extensive benefits have resulted in many companies investing resources into formal mentoring programs so they can foster relationships between old and new employees.


7 skills needed to be a good mentor

Communicate with each other

Good communication is essential to the success of a mentor-mentee relationship. If you can’t effectively communicate with one another through feedback, thoughts and opinions, personal experiences, and advice, then the relationship will no longer be mutually valuable. At the end of the day, mentoring is a two-way discussion that encourages collaboration.

But communication is not just what you say - it’s also how you say it. Research has shown that non-verbal communication such as facial expressions, body language, hand motions, and eye movements are an important form of communication. Matching your non-verbal cues to your actions and words during your conversations can help with authenticity and make your mentee trust their ability to confide with you.


Listen to what your mentee has to say

There’s a difference between hearing what your mentee has to say and really listening to them. Don’t just nod your head and dismiss what they have to say because you feel like you know better, actively engage in what they are saying. Research has shown that good listeners who genuinely care for their mentee’s well-being can pick up on their underlying thoughts and concerns by observing their non-verbal cues.

Really listening and asking relevant questions will allow you to build a better relationship with your mentee and lead them to form a more positive impression of you. This is because asking questions shows that you have clearly listened to and engaged in the conversation. As a result, your mentee will be more likely to seek your advice or ask for your opinion.


Keep your feedback constructive

The Sutton Trust report that, if it is done right, feedback can be one of the most effective ways to help someone improve their learning. However, for your mentee to effectively engage with your feedback, it relies on you doing it well and keeping it constructive.

One common challenge when giving feedback is that people tend to focus on how they’re giving it rather than on its actual content. This often leads to not-so-helpful feedback that is either just praise or criticism of the actual person rather than how they can better approach a situation. This leads your mentee to either asking poor feedback questions or arguing with your perspective of the situation.

Don’t fall into the trap of sugar-coating your feedback to avoid hurt feelings. At the end of the day, the criticism is there to help them on their journey. Be honest with your feedback in a respectful manner, perhaps even refer to mistakes you made to be as supportive as possible. The role of feedback is to educate and keep their progress on track.


Be empathetic to their situation

A good mentor should always take their mentee’s feelings, ideas, and perspectives into account and recognise when they’re demotivated. By understanding what they’re feeling, you should be able to guide them through situations that would cause other people to give up. Recognise that just because you easily persevered through a difficult situation, doesn’t mean your mentee will do so as well.

Our resilience at work is often determined by our life experiences. Everyone is different. If you feel that your empathy skills are lacking, don’t panic: it is a skill you can develop over time with a lot of practice. This can include listening more, appreciating differences, educating yourself about certain notions, and being curious about others. Adapt as you go along and communicate with your mentee about their emotional needs.


Don’t assume control of their career

Your mentee is in charge of their own career path.

It’s easy to try and take control of your mentee’s life and use their career as a second chance for your own because you “know better”. This is not what being a good mentor is about. Your role is to help your mentee achieve their own work goals by advising them whilst they adapt to their role, not do their job for them.

One of the greatest gifts you can give your mentee is the autonomy of their own choices by having faith in them. They need to be self-sufficient and be able to work in high-pressure situations, meet demands, and solve problems on their own. This will encourage them to believe in their own ability, benefiting them in the long run.


Motivate and inspire your mentee to do well

One of your roles as a mentor is to inspire the younger generation to be confident, thoughtful, and motivational leaders. However, that only really comes from someone modelling those behaviours – you.

As a mentor, you can motivate your mentee in a variety of different ways, but the focus should always be on making sure they reach their full potential by challenging their comfort zone. Make sure that your mentee recognises that the effort they put in is worthwhile. Evidence indicates that you can do this by providing recognition and praise, offering rewards, inclusion and by being passionate.


Take a genuine interest

You shouldn’t mentor someone if your relationship is going to be a shallow one. Acting as a mentor is a very personal process that requires you to know your mentee at a deeper level, so you tailor your advice specifically to them.

However, it’s not just about knowing your mentee’s workplace behaviours and career goals, but also who they are as a person outside of work. Getting to know your mentee at a more personal level will allow you to build the close relationship necessary for a successful mentorship. It will also allow you to understand how to phrase your feedback, what opportunities to suggest and how to tailor your advice.


Final thoughts

The benefits of mentoring programs have been researched extensively. More and more organisations are implementing them as a way to not only help younger employees navigate their career path but as a way to combat issues that are becoming increasingly common.

However, there’s a big difference between being a mentor and being a good mentor. Communication, listening, and empathy are just a few of the skills necessary for an effective mentoring relationship. Ultimately, the best way to create knowledge is to share knowledge as everyone needs help at some stage in their life.

For more tips on how to be a good mentor, consider ways in which your mentee can overcome self-doubt.


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