7 Actions Mentors Can Take
People often ask someone to be their mentor because they admire that person, want to learn from that person, and quite possibly want to emulate that person’s success. Perhaps they want to learn how to handle a difficult conversation with a superior in a more effective manner, just like they have observed the mentor accomplishing. Or maybe they want to learn how to be a more caring leader, like they view the mentor. Or maybe they just want to learn how to make a more meaningful life for themselves, as they see the mentor doing.
Whatever the reasons may be, mentoring someone can be as rewarding for you as it is beneficial for the mentee. Good mentors appreciate that someone is asking for their advice and expertise, while staying focused on the mentee’s growth. For people new to the mentor role, it might feel overwhelming that someone is putting so much trust in you. You may not know where to even start.
These seven ideas are actions you can take with your mentee right now to begin having a robust and rewarding mentoring relationship.
One of the core actions a mentor can take is asking the mentee questions. When you ask questions, you are looking for clarity, searching for meaning, trying to help the mentee find patterns, and guiding the mentee on a path of self-discovery. You never want your mentee to become dependent on you; you want them to be able to eventually outgrow their need for you. By teaching them to ask questions of themselves, the situations they face, and the choices they make, you are giving them the tools they need to be independent and successful.
Mentees come to you because they value your opinion. While you don’t want to dominate the conversation or dictate to the mentee what they should or shouldn’t do, you can certainly offer ideas on whatever situation they are facing. Ask them if they want to brainstorm ideas together; if they say yes, then start a conversation where each of you shares ideas and builds off one another’s thoughts. Sometimes just hearing options is enough to help the mentee know what they do or do not want to do. It can also help them see options they hadn’t considered.
A great way to convey an idea is by sharing a story. Stories offer a way for you to connect with your mentee and show them that you understand what they are going through. It also shows your mentee that they are not alone, nor is their situation unique. Someone has been through this before and navigated through the challenges that can arise. Stories also allow you to build a personal connection with the mentee by showing a vulnerable side of yourself. This takes place most effectively when you share a story in which you failed or struggled. These can be great ways to help illustrate how things can be turned around and how a positive outcome can come from a negative circumstance.
While a mentee shouldn’t come to you and expect you to solve all of their problems, they also should not come to you and expect you to just listen and nod and agree with everything they say. A part of being a mentor is to ask questions and dig deeper into what you hear the mentee telling you. Maybe this means challenging them on their assumptions. Or maybe this means looking for the reasons why they feel a certain way or believe a certain thing. You can ask probing questions to help the mentee discover truths, which can then lead them to finding solutions. You can even try asking “why” multiple times in response to each answer the mentee gives you so that you can start peeling away the layers and find the root of the issue.
Listen with Compassion
Now on the flip side, sometimes the best thing a mentor can do is just listen—but there is a caveat. That doesn’t mean you don’t ask questions, tell stories, or any of the other things suggested here, but you should be conscious of the times when your mentee really just needs for you to stop talking and start listening. As you listen, be sure to do so with compassion, meaning that you try to understand your mentee’s point of view and grasp any of the outside influences that might make themselves known through what the mentee says. Once you listen, you can ask the mentee questions to probe deeper into what was shared and to gain clarity on what it is the mentee wants to gain from the conversation. Sometimes we just need to vent; other times we need a fresh perspective. No matter what the case is, be sure to listen.
Mentors are often chosen because they have been through a similar situation as the mentee, and the mentee wants to learn from them about their experience. When this is the case, it can be easy to fall into the trap of telling the mentee what they should do, especially since you have already been through this. Don’t do it! Instead, offer encouragement to the mentee and provide a safe relationship where they can ask questions, share ideas, vent frustrations, and seek a better understanding of the situation at hand. Encourage your mentee to push through difficult situations, cheer them on as they attempt a new (or uncomfortable) task, and celebrate with them when they learn something and grow.
One reason why someone might ask you to be their mentor is to gain access to your network. If you are comfortable with this situation, then by all means make introductions between your mentee and people in your network that can help the mentee. But don’t feel obligated to do this; it’s not a requirement that a mentor open up access to their network for their mentee. If you do choose to do this, consider making very targeted introductions with a clear and express purpose that everyone agrees to. You don’t want to put an undue burden on the people in your network nor make them feel uncomfortable by the request you are making.
Being a mentor can be rewarding, eye-opening, and exciting. You should feel honored that someone wants you to be their mentor. They see value in you and want to learn from you. Kudos! Help make the relationship a wonderful experience for both of you by being a quality mentor who cares about the relationship and values the journey you and the mentee are on.