By Vincent O’Connell
If you’ve just been asked to mentor someone, it’s time for a little reality check. The truth is many prospective new mentors don’t fully understand what it takes to be as helpful as they can be within an effective, dynamic mentor-mentee relationship.
Yes, effective mentors do perform an important advisory and teaching role by sharing valuable information from a broad set of relevant personal and work experiences. But what’s flawed about approaching mentoring only from an information-sharing perspective is that it lacks an appreciation of the highly interpersonal and psychosocial aspects of mentoring.
At its best, mentoring is a dynamic, ever-evolving relationship, requiring a substantial emotional investment by you, the mentor, in your mentee’s growth and development. It’s a role powered by large doses of empathy and seeking first to understand at what point your mentee is today.
The best mentors see their role as one that far transcends advice-giving.
As mentor, you are part counselor, coach, advisor, master, teacher, therapist, and preceptor, all rolled into one. And an effective mentor can seamlessly transition from one role to another based on a mentee’s needs at the time.
Here are five tactics the best mentors use to facilitate personal and career self-actualization in their mentees:
1. EXAMINE INTRINSIC MOTIVATION
By identifying natural interests and factors that motivate your mentee beyond external rewards like more compensation, you can make an effort to uncover the foundation elements of your mentee’s self-actualization.
A higher salary might pay more bills, but does it represent personal and career growth aligned with what your mentee finds most interesting and exciting about his professional career? Most often, your mentee’s optimal performance will be determined by his motivation to excel at a facet of his career that he finds most intrinsically satisfying.
2. BE A ROLE MODEL FOR SUPERIOR EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE
Behavior modeling by you, the mentor, creates opportunities for your mentee to observe effective actions in different professional contexts, especially those involved with demonstrating leadership and building instrumental relationships around an organization.
Research and practical experience show that individuals with higher emotional intelligence succeed at a far higher rate in all professional roles. Consequently, the behavior modeling of particular value to your mentee often is demonstrating self-awareness, self-management, empathy, and relationship management competencies, the defining components of building a high EQ. Your mentee will see both the ways to manifest high EQ effectively and the resulting positive impacts of being in sound control of one’s emotional core.
3. IDENTIFY AND PURSUE STRETCH GOALS
In the highly acclaimed film “Whiplash,” the character in the mentor role takes a somewhat “over-the-top” perspective on this issue, stating that the worst two words a person in a helping role can say is, “Good job.”
The essential point being made here is that greatness and enhanced capability to achieve one’s full potential are only facilitated by setting one’s sights on objectives far beyond what seems possible today and not being satisfied with the status quo.
As a mentor, it’s your job to gain a strong sense of your mentee’s full potential and raise the bar very high in terms of what he can work towards achieving.
4. IDENTIFY AND LEVERAGE TEACHABLE MOMENTS
Individuals manifest the most openness to new ideas, concepts, or suggestions during an emotional event, ranging from elation for success achieved to depression about opportunities lost or failure to reach a pre-set objective.
Really great mentors demonstrate the empathy to understand when their mentees are most open to reinforcing a key piece of personal learning, and then they hit it hard to reinforce a critical message that has been under discussion previously.
This mentoring practice is more art than science — it requires sensitivity to here-and-now issues and emotional content in the mentor/mentee relationship.
5. BUILD SKILLS THAT ENABLE THE MENTEE TO THINK MORE STRATEGICALLY
Many professionals are good at following directions and applying pre-set methods or standards to performing a task. But mentoring’s a process about self-actualizing one’s full potential.
Effective and more frequent strategic thinking is integral to moving from Point A to a higher Point B in a profession. It’s a core element of becoming a leader. As a mentor you can model strategic thinking methods, demonstrating how your mentee can move toward gaining a more strategic outlook on events and circumstances. You can also guide your mentee toward sources of information to facilitate a strategic viewpoint about these events and circumstances.
This article originally appeared in Fast Company and is adapted from 9 Powerful Practices of Really Great Mentors: How to Inspire and Motivate Anyone (Career Press, 2015) by Vincent O’Connell and Stephen E. Kohn.