Self

7 Ways The Best Mentors Share Their Experience & Help Others Grow Alongside Them

Photo: CarlosBarquero / Shutterstock.com
African-American Woman works with younger woman

Being a mentor is a fulfilling way to pass on your knowledge and share the reward of your experience with someone. It also is a great way to learn more about yourself — a point not lost on the most experienced and effective mentors.

This is just one of several nuggets of wisdom that long-time mentors have learned over time. We'll get into others soon, but first a bit of an overview. 

What is a mentor? Are mentors chosen, or do mentorships occur naturally? Are you cut out to be a mentor? Let's work through this together.

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Mentoring Helps Co-Workers Learn and Form Lasting Bonds

Sometimes, successful mentorships are products of circumstance. And more often than you might think, the effects of a successful mentorship are felt up and down the organization.

Once, I hired a former colleague (who we’ll call Susan) to our communications team. She let me know right away that she wanted to become a people manager. Susan’s enthusiasm and potential were evident. 

She had the skills, experience and education, along with the self-awareness and professionalism needed to excel. At the time though, the small team couldn’t support another manager.

While looking for opportunities for Susan, a public relations student (let’s call her Emily) reached out to me. She sought a summer internship with us. 

Before hiring Emily, I worked with Susan to structure a working relationship that would benefit all. As director, I would continue to lead the team. But Susan would oversee Emily’s day-to-day tasks.

Beyond that, neither Susan nor I were sure how to define her role. Would it be coaching or mentoring? Since neither of us had sussed out the nuances of the two skills, we had to search the definitions.

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Mentor or coach?

A mentor is someone who shares their knowledge, skills and experience to help another person develop and grow. Mentoring often occurs over an extended period of time and, similar to teaching, is built around instruction and knowledge-sharing. 

Its purpose is for the mentor to guide, teach and demonstrate specific skills. A mentor typically would be a few years further on in the career and have hands-on knowledge of the skills needed.

On the other hand, a coach is someone who provides guidance to a client on clarifying their goals and helps them reach their full potential. Coaching is less direct and instructive. Through the coach’s use of asking powerful questions, coaching is more inquiring. Coaches and clients work together in mutually-arranged sessions, often for 20 minutes to an hour at a time.

As a person spends time in the mentor role, he or she picks up a few important skills that can strengthen the mentor-mentee relationship. Over time, a dedicated mentor can perfect these skills — further cementing his or her legacy as someone who made a real difference in another person's life.

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7 skills experienced mentors have perfected

1. They are a store of relevant knowledge and expertise

Unlike a coach, a mentor needs knowledge and experience in the field of expertise they are to impart to the mentee. A mentor has “been there, done that” but is still highly engaged and enthusiastic about the subject matter.  It is most effective when the mentor’s knowledge and experience are still fresh.

2. They have the ability to effectively share knowledge, with an eye toward helping someone else grow

In a career setting, mentoring goes much deeper and requires more commitment than orienting the mentee to their role. A mentor must be ready to make the investment in the mentee’s growth. They should be prepared to make the mentee a priority until they and the mentor are comfortable with the mentee’s burgeoning skills and independence.

3. They offer sincere encouragement

A good mentor is neither a cheerleader nor a bossy taskmaster. Their goal is to encourage the mentee to push through the challenges and demonstrate their belief in the mentee’s ability to succeed.

4. They provide constructive feedback and advice

Helping them push through the challenges will involve providing constructive feedback and advice. The mentor shows respect to the mentee by waiting for the appropriate time and location for some quick feedback.

Then, the mentor could share with the mentee the growth area along with a specific example of what they observed. The mentor also would explain the impact the behavior is having, then pause for a reaction. When it’s clear the mentee understands, the mentor would suggest steps the mentee could take to change the behavior.

5. They model following up and follow-through for their mentees

Mentors must exemplify the behavior they want to see in the mentee. Responding to a mentee’s requests in a timely fashion is important. Good mentors will schedule followup opportunities and check the progress of the mentee’s development.

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A good mentor is authentic and honest. They don’t make promises they can’t keep. They are dependable. If a mentor sets meetings with the mentee every Thursday at 2, the mentee is certain these will occur, and on time.

6. They foster autonomy

While mentors need to be closely attuned to the mentee’s development, this does not give permission to hover and monitor every task. Rather than micromanage, a good mentor will give the mentee room to make plans and allow them to fail in areas where risks are lower

7. They have mastered their listening skills

The best leaders are great listeners. Active listening skills are imperative for mentors. They make the listener feel heard and appreciated. They build a culture of trust. To encourage growth, mentees need to know they can ask their mentors anything

Even before a thorough review of the skills of a mentor, I instinctively knew Susan possessed them. But what if you’d like to mentor someone but don’t feel you have what it takes to be a mentor?

The good news is that you can learn all of these skills.

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How to learn mentoring skills

It’s a given that you already have the skills and past experience you want to impart to the mentor. The rest is more about what’s really in your heart. If you can answer yes to these two questions, you may be ready to start mentoring.

Do you really care enough about the subject area? 

If you don’t, the mentee will know it and they will not receive the full benefit of your mentorship. For both of you, mentoring will be an experience to endure rather than enjoy. If you do, your passion and enthusiasm will shine through, resulting in a much more positive experience and outcome.

Do you genuinely care about helping others to develop and grow?

This is key. Again, going through the motions is tough to hide. Your mentee will sense how genuine your concerns are about their development. 

The rest are intentional practices that you can develop over time with practice.

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Are you ready to be a mentor?

If, like Susan, you’re thinking about becoming a mentor, congratulations on reaching such an important milestone! You may have reflected on your own career success and the people who helped you get to where you are today. You are mature and self-aware and realize it’s time to give back.

This is called the generativity stage of Erik Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development. This stage comes with a desire to invest in others, with the byproduct of leaving a lasting legacy for yourself.

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Portrait of a successful mentorship

Susan, Emily and I were all neophytes to the mentoring concept not so many summers ago. Because we were all enthusiastic to learn and participate in growth and development, the experience was a resounding success.

Susan handled her mentoring role with the poise and professionalism I had anticipated. The experience led her to take more training in leadership. A short time later, she became a people manager and is now a director.

Emily developed her skills and contributed to the team in a way that we could easily see her becoming a permanent part of the team. After graduation, she became an entrepreneur and started her own very successful business.

And I learned the difference between mentoring and coaching. For me, it was the summer that ignited a new passion. I learned that a career in coaching could satisfy my own yearning for generativity. I enlisted in a coach training program and five years later, coaching became my full-time vocation.

Imagine what mentoring could do for you.

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Brent Roy, PCC, CPLC, CMC,  is a certified career, executive and personal development coach and certified mentor coach. Brent can help you increase your confidence to prepare you for promotion or a new career. For more ways he can help, reach out to Brent.

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