It can feel great when someone asks you to be their mentor. It means that they highly value your input and want to model at least part of their life after you. Mentoring can often be a bit intimidating at first. What can I truly offer someone else? I’m not some wise sage that gives out advice? What if I lead them astray?
Let me encourage you that you can be a great mentor without being Yoda.
If you tell yourself that you aren’t worthy to mentor someone, you will become a self-fulling prophecy. Have confidence that the person wants to hear and learn from you. Having confidence doesn’t mean you have to act like a know-it-all or make up answers if you don’t have one. Confidence is avoiding the imposter syndrome to lead in a meaningful and relaxed way.
Listen more than you talk
Just as you should do in your regular leadership, you should listen more than you coach in mentoring sessions. Although the person is there to hear from you, you need to understand where they are and all the details of the situation before you dispense your knowledge.
I’ve seen mentoring relationships fizzle out because the mentor spent the entire time talking. Afterward, the mentor is at a loss as to why it didn’t work out or will point to a personality difference. No matter how much your mentee looks up to you, they don’t want to just listen to a lecture and stories the whole time that you are together. Have a goal to learn something new about your person after each session.
Keep a neutral approach
A mentor should want their person to be successful. That doesn’t mean that you always have to take their side in an issue that they are going through in life or at work. In fact, the more neutral you are, the more it requires the person to step back, reflect and have a bigger view of what the situation is.
Know your limits.
I caution leaders and mentors not to lose their effectiveness by bringing on too many people to coach. It can be tempting to pick up more than you can handle once you get the hang of mentoring and start to see the fruits of your efforts.
Be aware of your load, the commitment level to each person and set parameters for the length of the mentorship. Perhaps its while the person is in college, or until they find a job. Mentorships don’t have to be lifelong commitments to each other. I typically do year-long commitments and then evaluate based on their progress, who else wants to be mentored and my current life load.
Remember that you don’t have to be perfect to be a good mentor. Recognize your workload, listen and be the guide that the person wants you to be. Invest in your person so that they can develop others.
Make a better tomorrow.