The word "mentor" originates from the character Mentor in Homer’s "The Odyssey". Odysseus asked Mentor to care for his son Telemachus during his absence. In order to guide Telemachus during a time of need, Athena, the goddess of wisdom, disguises herself as Mentor. Taking on this role she encourages Telemachus to stand up against his mother’s suitors and search for the truth behind his father’s disappearance.
Today, the term "mentor" refers to someone who provides guidance and support to someone with less experience than themselves.
Mentoring can transform the career of not just the mentee, but the mentor too.
The aim of the mentoring process is for the mentee to gain greater clarity about where they can go with their career and gain the skills and knowledge to help them do so. The mentor also benefits as they typically learn to see things from the perspective of a different generation, gender or culture.
The traditional approach to mentoring is a belief that the mentor shares their experience with the mentee. However, mentors can benefit immeasurably from a fresh viewpoint gleaned from a younger person. Understanding how a different generation thinks, how they react and what’s important to them are lessons that can be applied in any business.
Mentoring has a more personal benefit, too. Providing guidance to young individuals to help them avoid the same career mistakes we have made has a feel-good factor.
Make it a win-win relationship
- Both parties need to be receiving something from the relationship, or it’s not worth it
- It doesn’t always have to be material on both sides – the mentor could simply receive joy from mentoring – but both parties must get value
- Mentors should ask a prospective mentee about the outcomes they hope to achieve
- Mentees should ask the mentor why they decided to help them
- Mentoring is not about the mentor givingthementee lots of advice or tellingthementee what to do
- The role of the mentor is to help the mentee develop their quality of thinking and help them to put it in context
- Mentors should spend most of their time listening and asking more questions than they give answers
- Mentors help mentees to discover their true potential by determining their goals, their barriers and their drivers
- The key to making a mentor relationship work is respect
- Both parties need to be willing to listen and learn
- A mentor giving advice without understanding their mentee’s unique perspective and goals won’t be as effective as an active conversation
As a mentee, making sure the mentor you choose has relevant experience in achieving what you’re looking to accomplish is vital. Mentoring relationships are often a limited-time engagement, and as both people mature and goals are reached or change, the relationship may evolve or come to a natural conclusion.
Prioritise checking in with each other
A successful mentoring relationship is one you enter with your eyes wide open to your commitment.
- Don’t say yes and then struggle to find the time and energy to do it well
- Be respectful of your commitment
- Making time for each other helps keep the relationship strong
Be compassionately direct with feedback
Always be completely truthful. There’s no point in mentoring someone if you aren’t prepared to help them grow.
The truth will always help your mentee step into a greater version of themselves, but the key is in finding the most graceful and kind way to deliver it to them.
Keep things professional
The sharing and learning experiences need to have clear goals and objectives, as well as an execution plan. That plan should feature measurable steps that lead to the desired outcome.
Have specific questions
No one mentor will have the exact advice, wisdom, or insight for every question. However, building a strong network of people with varied backgrounds and experiences gives you access to many answers. Just be specific with your questions.
Establish clear boundaries
- How can the mentor/mentee get in contact with you?
- What is your availability?
- Is there any way that you can clarify your expectations?
Clear boundaries can shape a professional and long-lasting relationship.
Act as a sounding board for each other
Encourage curiosity and a willingness to try out different ideas that come from your interactions. As a mentor, encourage mentees to bounce ideas off you and then to come back and discuss what is and isn’t working for them, what they’re learning, and where they can improve.
Being a good mentor takes patience, time, communication skills and empathy. It is important that mentors do not project their own ambitions or make decisions for their mentee. Instead, provide the mentee with the opportunity to forge their own path.
Good mentors should feel invested in the success of their mentee and take a personal interest in their development. The skills of a good mentor are highly relevant to leadership roles.
If you’re going to willingly spend time with another person, the arrangement should be worthwhile and enjoyable for everyone. Given how much networking is now done online, having a real-life mentoring relationship with someone can be especially valuable and help retain or develop interpersonal communication skills.
Last reviewed: 22 June 2021