How to be an Effective Mentor


Maybe this is your first time as a mentor, or perhaps you are a pro. Maybe you are mentoring as part of an outreach program to adolescents, or perhaps you are assigned as a mentor in the workplace. Whatever the circumstances, there are some planning and organizational tasks you can consider to make your mentoring project more successful.

Use these tips to design and implement your own program. Remember that your goal is to be a successful mentor. That means helping your ‘mentee’ figure out what they want to accomplish and establishing a plan to get them there. It does NOT mean molding the individual in your image or forcing your own perspective or personal goals on them. Remain objective and remember that your focus is on the mentee achievements not on making yourself feel important – a common trap for mentors!

If your company or organization has structured mentor training, or if you can arrange for outside mentor training, I would recommend taking a course. These relationships seem simple and the goals seem clear, but you can make many mistakes if you don’t have a complete picture of what you are supposed to accomplish. Here are some tips that will help you organize a plan and consider the critical factors:

  • To be an effective mentor, you must first establish a bond of trust between you and the mentee. If your mentee does not trust you, he is not likely to be honest or cooperative. So, you need to keep it friendly and sociable in the beginning and find out about the person. The more you know about the mentee, his personal goals and interests, the better mentor you will be.
  • If you are mentoring a young person, ALWAYS get written permission from the parents. Sit down with them, go over the goals of the program, and ask them to approve their child’s participation in writing.
  • Consider the environment. Not everyone is comfortable at first in a one-on-one session. You may be able to hold group meetings to encourage discussion among mentees and mentors, and then break off into private sessions after you get the discussion going.
  • Set aside or confirm the availability of a budget with the mentee’s manager or the person in authority. You may need funds for training, books or other things you think will help your mentee grow.
  • Get the permission of your mentee to talk to associates, friends and managers. Another outlook is helpful in identifying problems or issues that the mentee may not see or that he does not initially wish to admit.
  • Clearly define the ground rules of the relationship. It is important that you and your mentee understand what is appropriate to discuss in your sessions, and how much advice you will provide on which topics. Some mentees will think you are going to give them a magic bullet to achieve success, but much of the mentor/mentee relationship is based on the need to help the mentee identify (on his own) his issues and goals and not to lead him to conclusions.
  • It should be clear whether you are going to discuss personal issues and relationships. Depending on the nature of your mentor role, it may be appropriate to do so but remember that you are not a psychologist or a therapist. You should never discuss or advise a mentee in areas you do not have the skills to assess. Refer them to the appropriate professionals and be firm in your refusal to provide advice in these areas or you may face legal action or, at the very least, endure awkward questioning by your management.
  • At ALL TIMES protect the privacy and sanctity of the mentor/mentee relationship. Do NOT discuss these sessions with anyone else except in the case you are expected to report on progress to parents or managers. Even then, the sessions should be summarized, with no details of personal discussions included – or you will violate the trust of your mentee!
  • How long will this program last? A mentoring program should last between 6 and 12 months if it is going to be effective and establish long-lasting behaviors or break old habits. It is unrealistic to think that most long-term goals established between the mentor and mentee can be achieved in less than 6 months.
  • Establish a termination policy to outline how and when the mentor and mentee may agree to terminate the relationship, if it is not working, or if it has come to its logical conclusion. Be sure parents and managers agree to this policy.
  • Establish a regularly scheduled meeting time and place and stick to that schedule.
  • Establish a method of contact between the mentor and the mentee in between meetings. Is it OK for them to call you, email you or stop by to see you if they have a question or problem?
  • Create a template for the mentee to use to capture thoughts, ideas, and questions in between sessions and to take notes on progress and problems.
  • You MUST have documented goals. What do you want to accomplish? Make the goals specific and measurable. Concepts like “I want to get better at making presentations” are too vague. Instead you should get a baseline evaluation of the person’s presentation skills and then establish a goal to improve their 45% effective rating to an overall 70% rating.
    • How do you plan to accomplish each goal?
    • When will you accomplish each goal?
    • What are the benefits of accomplishing each goal?
  • Then test your assumptions by asking these questions:
    • Is it realistic to achieve these goals within this timeframe – or AT ALL?
    • Are the goals clear and concise? Are they measurable?
    • Do these goals reflect the values of the mentee?
    • Are you as a mentor comfortable with these goals – nothing illegal or immoral included?
    • Are the goals compelling? Is the benefit worth the effort?
    • If these goals were achieved, would you be proud to report them to parents and managers?
  • Meet often with your management to bring them up to date on progress and document all sessions to protect yourself from legal action or questions about inappropriate behavior.

If you approach the mentoring process with a well-conceived plan, I believe you will find the mentoring relationship rewarding for both parties.

Categories Managing People, Uncategorized

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