In our high-speed over-scheduled divided-attention 21st century, it's unfortunately rare to have someone sit with you on a regular basis for no other reason than to listen and offer wisdom and encouragement, to share their experiences and their perspective on your challenges, and to not solve your problems for you but instead help you develop your own problem-solving skills.
We call that mentoring. It’s that old parable that says “give a man a fish and he eats for a day, but teach him to fish and he eats for life.” Crowell’s MBA takes mentoring so seriously that each student is required to have a relationship with a mentor to advance in the program.
The concept of mentoring dates back before recorded history. The word itself comes from Homer’s “The Odyssey,” written in 750 B.C. and featuring a character named Mentor whose primary purpose was to guide others wisely in life.
Here are ten tips for mentoring a student, a new professional or anyone who is in need of your wisdom and experience.
- Recognize that mentoring will take intentionality and commitment from both mentor and mentee. Set regularly-scheduled meetings — most experts recommend an hour, and at least once per month. Be diligent about showing up on time and being focused, not distracted.
- Ask your mentee to come prepared each time with questions or topics, usually no more than two or three. Let them know that preparation will make your time together more productive.
- You as the mentor should be prepared as well — review your notes from last time and think through in advance any ongoing issues. If you want your mentee to respect the time you’re giving them, you must respect their time as well, so follow through on anything you commit to. Be willing to share your own resources.
- Treat your mentee as a person, not a project. Your goal is to develop a relationship, not to complete a task, so you will need to have humility, mutual respect and patience. Your mentee may be a grateful sponge, soaking up all you offer, or they may be quiet, untrusting and cynical, which will require you to show yourself as trustworthy.
- Many young professionals don't have a very high opinion of themselves — there’s a voice inside saying “What happens when they find out I can’t do this?” One of your jobs as a mentor is to help them understand “Yes you can, let’s work together on it.”
- Instead of having a “development plan” laid out before you even meet your mentee, find out what the mentee wants from this time. You may find yourself talking not just about professional development, but also their immediate real-life stresses. Ask the mentee to set some goals for your time together, but be flexible.
- As a mentor, being critical is the quickest way to kill any sense of vulnerability or trust your mentee has or any sharing that they want to do. Feedback should be honest, but given carefully and constructively, after trust has been built. Referring to your own failures or blind spots may be painful but usually opens a door.
- Know that mentoring is not being an “answer person.” Being an answer-person may make you feel good about yourself and even feed your ego. But your goal is to help your mentee learn how to find their own answers and develop their own decision-making process.
- Meet in person, even if other ways are easier. Eye contact between you is crucial — the kind of vulnerability you are looking for often comes out in body language. And it’s a lot harder to look someone in the eye and lie to them.
- Mentoring doesn’t mean giving a lot of assignments: Here’s six books to read, and do a personal reflection paper for me each week, etc. These people have lives just like you do, and your goal is to make those lives better, not busier or harder.
Starting a new career or even just a new job is hard, especially trying to do it without help. As the teacher in Ecclesiastes reminds us, “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!”