Mentoring: How to Be an Effective Mentor
At some point in your career, you may be asked to become a mentor. You could be formally approached by someone looking for a mentor (known as a mentee or protégé). You may find that a friendship with a colleague evolves over time to a mentoring relationship. Or your organization may have a mentoring program and assign you a mentee.
If you’ve benefited from a good relationship with a mentor, you know that mentoring can make a positive difference in a person’s career.
What is mentoring?
Mentors are experienced, trusted advisors or counsellors who have successful careers and proven track records. Mentors are not usually paid for their services.
As a mentor, your role will be to:
- make a commitment to support and encourage your mentee
- encourage your mentee to develop careers that reflect their skills, potential and goals
- offer wisdom, knowledge, experience, constructive criticism, connections and resources
- focus on the overall career directions like advancement and training rather than on day-to-day concerns of your mentee
- set an example for the level of professional conduct and success your mentee hopes to achieve
As a mentor, you don’t need to be in the same organization or even in the same field as your mentee. What’s important is that some aspect of your approach to your career, such as personal skills or problem-solving abilities, makes you worth learning from.
People become mentors for a variety of reasons. You may:
- have benefited from a relationship with a mentor and want to pass that benefit on to others
- want to give back to your organization, industry or community
- want to build a reputation for developing new talent
- value the perspective you gain by seeing yourself, your profession and your career through your mentee’s eyes
Mentoring can help you stay current, bring new energy to your professional career and expand your network in new directions.
Who will you mentor?
You want a mentee who will demonstrate high standards of trustworthiness, professionalism, ethics and confidentiality. Your mentee should be a good listener, enthusiastic about self-improvement, able to accept constructive criticism and willing to make the most of the time and energy you offer. Remember, your mentee’s actions will reflect on you.
Be cautious before you agree to mentor someone:
- Don’t agree to mentor someone you’ve never met.
- If your organization has a mentoring program, accept a mentee assigned to you only if it feels right.
- Learn about your prospective mentee by asking people in your network, googling the mentee and checking out the mentee’s profile on business and social networking sites.
If you don’t think you can effectively mentor an individual, tell that person so that neither of you wastes time.
How do you manage the mentoring process?
Expect a mentee to describe his or her:
- strengths, weaknesses and goals
- ideas, conflicts and decisions
- reasons for wanting to learn from you.
Each mentoring relationship will be different. Typically, the process will involve you as the mentor:
- talking about your mistakes as well as your successes
- sharing what you wish you’d known when you were starting out
- connecting your mentee to others who can be helpful and supportive
- offering insight into how you make decisions, resolve conflicts and plan for the future
- seeing things from your mentee’s point of view while providing feedback from your perspective.
As a mentor, you decide when, where and how you want the mentoring process to continue. Think about these questions:
- Do you want to meet on an ad hoc basis or set specific times to meet?
- Will you guide your mentee by setting tasks and expecting outcomes or by sharing your approaches through conversation?
- Will you evaluate the process formally on paper or informally by periodically checking to make sure the relationship continues to meet each other’s needs?
Over time, your mentee’s career will evolve and he or she may no longer need you as a mentor. At that point you can congratulate yourself on having been an effective mentor. Your relationship may evolve into friendship.
Rewards of Mentoring
Becoming a mentor can be a rewarding outcome of your own successful career. Be wise about who you choose to mentor. Set clear boundaries about what you expect. If you are open, ethical and supportive, you will establish a relationship with your mentee that will continue to be a source of inspiration for both of you.
Relevant Tips (alis.alberta.ca/tips)
Additional Reading (alis.alberta.ca/publications)
Check out Coaching, Mentoring, and Recognition on the Government of Alberta Corporate Human Resources site for information on mentoring in the Alberta Public Service.