Whether you’re mentoring someone through regular structured meetings or you’re just helping a peer out with a one-off catch-up, there are a few things you can do to maximise the value of the relationship.
Be real. Be human.
You don’t have to have all the answers. And being up front about where you can and cannot help your mentee is important. It shows authenticity, and it also empowers them to own the gaps in their own skillset. You can, however, work together to help them find the answers.
Whatever you do, don’t fall into the trap of trying to provide advice where you don’t have any business doing so. It’s no good for anyone involved.
Is your mentee looking for a longer-term mentorship? Be honest with yourself. Is this something you have the time and energy to commit to?
If you’re not in a position to help out don’t be afraid to say ‘thanks, but no thanks.’ You’ll be doing yourself and the potential mentee a favour. And if you can go one better, give them some suggestions of who might be a more suitable mentor for them.
Ask, don’t tell.
Perfect this skill and you will have mastered the art of mentoring. Asking strategic questions will facilitate lasting learning in a way that talking at someone could never do. It also empowers your mentee to feel like they’re in control of their own journey.
It’s tempting to just skip to the chase and tell your mentee what the right path is. But giving into that temptation will only slow down their journey to achieving their goals.
Even if you’re certain you know what they need to do, stop. Take a breath. Then think of a question that will help them see the answer.
Pro-tip: If your mentee gives you their answer and you’re not yet sure how to proceed, try asking Michael Bungay Stanier’s ‘one best question’: and what else?
People almost always have more to say. And sometimes it’s the second (or third!) response that produces the real answer.
And once you’ve asked, listen.
If you’re waiting for your opportunity to talk, you’re doing it wrong. When you ask your mentee a question, prepare yourself for the answer. Be fully present and try to empathise with what they have to say. Ask yourself: why did they arrive at this answer? What does this tell me about their previous experience? And how can I lead them to a more productive perspective?
And remember, you don’t have to respond right away. Lean into a pause and take the opportunity to reflect on their response and prepare a productive response. Sage advice is worth the wait.
This is particularly important if you’re mentoring an introvert because many introverts like to give one- or two-word answers. But if you can lean into the discomfort of a pause, they’ll usually come forward with a bit more detail.
Challenge your mentee, but find the right pace.
A good mentor challenges their mentee without overwhelming them. Try to find a rhythm that suits their individual pace. Set a challenge. Help them achieve it. Then set another one, and so forth.
Once you know how quickly they can field a challenge, adjust accordingly.
Most goals have clear milestones. Maintain an awareness of your mentees timelines and show them they have your support even when you’re not meeting.
Are they presenting at a workshop? Boost their confidence with a quick text beforehand to remind them that they’re ready and they’re going to do great! Do they have a tricky meeting today? Let them know you’re free for a follow-up chat afterwards.
A little support can go a long way, especially for someone who respects and admires you.
Are you ready for your first mentor meeting? Check out our First Meeting Checklist for Mentors.
Want to help your mentee set some clear goals? Our goal-setting framework is a great place to start.