Socrates mentored Plato. Mahatma Gandhi mentored Nelson Mandela. Audrey Hepburn mentored Elizabeth Taylor. Obi-Wan Kenobi mentored Anakin Skywalker. There is a long list of well-known mentor-mentee relationships throughout—admittedly, some more transformational and uplifting than others, but whatever. But while it is easy to see the benefits leaning more towards the person receiving all the guidance, mentors can also gain much from the relationship. If done right, being a mentor can bring profound professional and personal benefits. The trick, then, is how to be a good mentor and keep your mentee from drifting to the Dark Side. Unfortunately, there are no cut and dried ways on how to be a good mentor. There are, however, some tips to steer you in the right direction!
Should you win your mentee over with free doughnuts? Is praise better than criticism? Is being a Sith really cooler than being a Jedi? There are all very good questions that I won’t even attempt to answer here. Instead, I’ll just lay out some mentorship rules to live by.
Start with your intentions.
Why do you want to be a mentor? John Maxwell, leadership guru and prolific author, states in his book Mentoring 101, “Most people who desire success focus almost entirely on themselves, not others when they start to make the journey. They usually think in terms of what they can get—in position, power, prestige, money, and perks. But that’s not the way to become truly successful. To do that, you have to give to others.” Mentorship is all about helping someone to develop their skills and capabilities. Essentially, the mentor’s role is to guide, offer insight, and help a mentee become more successful.
Consider what you can offer.
Before engaging in a mentor-mentee relationship, you have to assess what you can offer -what can you bring to the table? Julie Starr, executive coach and author of The Mentoring Manual, believes that we all mentor people. She adds, “We can look in our own lives, around people that have mentored us in our lives. It could be a favorite teacher, it could be an aunt or uncle or a friend of the family. We got all those very formative relationships that happen. And then we realize, we can mentor others.” The answer to the question, “How to be a good mentor?” rests on your willingness and readiness to tap into the wisdom gained through years of experience.
Enrich learning relationships through connections.
Some mentor-mentee relationships fail to take off. Why? Because it can be easy to mistake coaching for mentoring. Coaching is focused on task and performance, with the coach giving instructions to the learner. Mentoring, on the other hand, is a two-way learning relationship. Author Lois J. Zachary discussed the structures and processes that contribute to learning in her book, The Mentor’s Guide: Facilitating Effective Learning Relationships.
Remember to be consistent and authentic.
Consistency and authenticity should be at the core of healthy mentor-mentee relationships. A mentor who gives sage advice but never internalizes or applies these principles is not operating with consistency and authenticity in mind. As John Wooden mentions in his book, A Game Plan for Life: The Power of Mentoring, “When coaches or parents make consistency their foundation, everyone around them becomes more comfortable and everyone around them has a greater opportunity to grow.”
Be ready to grow with your mentee.
Mentoring expert and co-author of the Techniques for Coaching and Mentoring, David Clutterbuck, believes that mentors are continually learning from their mentees. As mentor-mentee relationships benefit both parties, a mentor must be ready to seize the opportunity to learn from the mentee. Ultimately, the question “How to be a good mentor?” is built upon your openness to learn from the experience.
Starting your mentorship journey can be overwhelming. But you are off to a good start asking the question “How to be a good mentor?” In truth, the first steps you take can have a huge impact on the outcome of your mentor-mentee relationship. Likewise, one has to remember that starting off on the right foot is crucial to the person on the other side of the equation. As John Maxwell puts it, “There is no greater accomplishment for mentors than when people they develop pass them by!”