We’ve all had at least one teacher or adult make a notable impression upon our lives. They singled us out, pushed us out of our comfort zone, guided us in our chosen craft, or put us on the road to our destined career--or all of the above.
Being someone’s mentor isn’t easy, however. It takes time, dedication, patience, self-control, and generosity--all the qualities that make a great educator (and a pretty decent human being). Here are ways to develop those traits and use them to benefit your mentee.
Make sure you’re ready.
Being a mentor is an important job--and it’s one you must do on top of the other important jobs that fill your life. Make sure you have the time, emotional intelligence, mental bandwidth, and organization skills to properly nurture a mentee, and you must be willing to work with students and young professionals who may have different backgrounds, education, opinions, and strengths. Remember, this is mentoring, not cloning. There’s a good chance you’ll both come away learning something valuable.
Light the fire with a good match.
One of the reasons your mentee approached you (or the other way around) is likely because you both share an enthusiasm for your job or your field of study. Embrace this and use it to shine a light on your mentee’s potential strengths, opportunities, and challenges. While this enthusiasm will fuel your initial arrangement, pay close attention to how well the two of your work together. Chances are the arrangement will either add to your own fires, or it will sap your energy and burn you both out. Be aware of this chemistry early so you can either mix it up or dissolve it before any damage is done.
Remember where you started.
It can be easy for those of us established in our respective fields to forget what it was like at the beginning of our studies and careers. Your mentee may enter into the relationship with idealism and unrealistic expectations; your job is to harness that passion and direct it toward what’s possible. Help them focus their efforts, find the tools, and develop the necessary skills. Meet them where they are, so they can determine for themselves the best way to go.
Be generous with your knowledge.
Great mentors are teachers, and great teachers are always learning. Take the time to clearly share what you know about your field, the industry, or the task at hand, and don’t let your mentee be the only one asking the questions. Make sure you both stay in tune with the process by asking how they are doing, what they are getting from the experience, and how you can be of greater assistance.
Stay available and accountable.
Establish a regular schedule for meetings so that you both can plan your time accordingly and hold each other accountable. Set the tone for these sessions, and have specific objectives. These expectations also serve as boundaries so that you can both tend to the other important aspects of your lives.
Remain objective and fair.
Perhaps one of the hardest parts about being a mentor is attempting to be an active observer. Mentorship is not friendship (think more LinkedIn and less Facebook); you are their advocate, but you do not owe them any favors, nor do they owe you any allegiance. For a mentorship to work, the mentor must feel comfortable conveying honest assessments and constructive feedback, and the mentee must feel comfortable approaching you for advice and guidance, even if one of their challenges is working with you or your field. Your role is to guide. Their role is to learn. There should be no hidden agenda or ulterior motives.
Mentorships can have a profound effect on education, careers, and personal lives. If you have a moment, we’d love to hear your stories about what being a mentor (or being mentored) meant to you.