What does it mean to be a mentor? How do you become a great mentor? These are important questions, and those who ask them are usually on the right track to becoming top-notch mentors because they are actively thinking about how to add value to mentees.
Before diving into how to mentor, let’s define what a mentor is. A mentor is someone who offers advice and support in a professional capacity. There is no requirement that the mentor is older or more experienced than the mentee. In fact, “reverse mentorship” has become popular in the corporate world where younger employees are assigned to mentor someone more senior in the organization.
To really add value as a mentor, the first step is to establish trust with your mentee. In order to create a safe space, they need to feel comfortable telling you their challenges, fears, and problems. The best way to build a foundation of trust is to be vulnerable yourself. Share the mistakes you’ve made and the lessons you’ve learned the hard way. There’s often a misperception that people who are successful never made mistakes. Debunk that myth. The more you are open and honest about what you’ve struggled with, or are currently struggling with, the higher the likelihood they will feel comfortable doing the same with you.
Another component of a strong mentor is that they are a good listener. They ask questions that get their mentee thinking, reflecting, and talking. Mentors can show they are paying attention by demonstrating active listening cues such as nodding their head, taking notes, and asking follow-up questions. It’s essential that mentors aren’t checking their phones or computers during conversations with their mentees. Doing this would signal they aren’t paying attention and the other person is not worth their time.
When a mentee shares a challenge or concern, it makes a big impact if you follow up with them a few days or weeks after your conversation to see how they are doing. A simple email or text letting them know you’re thinking of them or rooting for them gives them reassurance that you are part of their support system. It doesn’t take much time and it has a big (positive!) impact. Try setting a calendar reminder for yourself after a chat with your mentee so you don’t forget to follow up with them.
Mentors can double their impact on their mentees by introducing them to new people. Think about your own personal and professional network. Who would your mentee enjoy meeting? Who do you know who could offer them sound advice? Is there anyone who could be a resource to them? Proactively make these introductions so your mentee continues expanding their own network. Of course, you want to ask your contact if they are open to the introduction before making it. Most people will be receptive and want to help your mentee.
Mentoring others is a gratifying way to give back to others. Most people who are successful and satisfied in their lives had mentors who helped them get there, so paying it forward for your mentees ends up enriching your life.