If you are struggling with the concept of how to mentor – here are 3 top tips developed from experience on both sides of the mentoring equation.
What is mentoring? Let’s start with the definition of a mentor – because sometimes it is confused with being a coach or a manager, but in reality it’s a very different animal.
My Concise Oxford dictionary tells me that mentor is derived from the Greek “men” to think. Mentor was the adviser of the young Telemachus in Homer’s Odyssey. A mentor is an experienced and trusted adviser. If I turn to Wikipedia for a modern day interpretation- surprise! – it refers to Homer’s Odyssey and concludes that Mentor has been adopted as a term meaning someone who imparts wisdom to, and shares knowledge with, a less experienced colleague. So some keywords are – experienced , trusted, adviser, share, think, wisdom, knowledge.
If I look back on the mentors who have helped me over the years, there are 3 top characteristics that they share. I’ve used these to create 3 top tips to help you develop your mentoring skills and learn how to be a better mentor . . .
1. Listen more than you talk.
Mentoring is about caring for the other person (the mentee) and wanting to help them develop and progress. It is about helping them analyse their situation better and identify gaps in their skills or knowledge. It is not a lecture. And you can’t learn about your mentee if you’re the one doing most of the talking. So listen actively.
2. Ask the right questions.
When you have listened actively you are in a position to ask the right questions. Questions should be “open” in the sense that the mentee can’t just answer “yes” or “no” but has to go through a thought process and then articulate those thoughts. Sometimes voicing those thoughts doesn’t happen straightaway – but you plant the seed of an idea and let your mentee go away to mull it over.
My sister is a highly skilled registered social worker who counsels at risk youth. One day I asked her how she does it, what techniques does she use? Her reply was that she listens carefully and then tries to ask a question that gives a person insight. It might be an insight into their situation, an insight into the reasons they do what they do, or an insight into how they can improve or modify their behaviours.
But the key is “insight.” It might be uncovered by the astute questioning of the mentor, but the insight is owned by the mentee. You help them to work it out for themselves.
3. Walk the walk
You have to lead by example. No matter how clever your words might be – if your actions don’t match your words, you are compromising your ability to mentor.
For instance, if you talk and give advice about the importance of professional ethics, but don’t apply them when the going gets tough, then in the eyes of your mentees your stock will diminish.
Mentors have a role in guiding the continuing professional development of their mentees. Active listening and astute questioning, interspersed with advice, helps mentees to focus on where they want to be and what they should be doing to get there.