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How to Be an Effective Mentor

05/19/2015 05:33 EDT | Updated 05/19/2016 05:59 EDT
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"I learned that as a mentor, you're really there to listen and give advice, and not tell them what to do, or how you would do it."

Words of wisdom from my 16-year-old daughter, who had just come from a day of training in her new role as peer coach/mentor at her high school. She's one of 10 kids selected to help students new to the school, and to Canada, when they start in Grade 9 next year.

As parents, we are normally the first mentors our children have. As a long time advocate of mentoring in the professional world, I was pleased to see that the school had recognized the value in mentoring and was giving it formal process. I was of course proud that my daughter had gone through the application process in order to become one. I have officially mentored about a dozen people in my professional career, from my days in the corporate world to my freelance landscape today. I've unofficially mentored dozens more.

The biggest hurdle for most people seems to be how to get a formal mentor, and how to become one. I spoke on this subject at a conference for women entrepreneurs and at the end of the session I had exactly one woman approach me.

"Will you be my mentor?" she asked.

"Of course I will." That's all it took. You normally just have to ask, or offer, and the deal is done.

Once you've established you want the relationship, how do you use it effectively, for both of you?

  1. The onus to meet or talk is always on the mentoree, not the mentor. The mentor can't presume to know when advice and guidance, or, as per my daughter, just listening is required.
  2. There is no ideal length between conversations. When the need arises, be there.
  3. One of the roles of the mentor is to be constantly asking "Why are you doing that?" or, "Does that activity lead directly to achieving your goals?" Of course this is presuming that goals have been set. The mentor cannot set the goals -- the mentorees must do this themselves.
  4. Be honest with your mentor. Explore the challenges you're having with your work and celebrate your wins. A mentor needs a full picture in order to advise -- they need to know what makes you feel successful and what makes you feel like you've failed.
  5. As a mentor, take the time to learn from your mentoree. Often they are younger or in a slightly different field. A new perspective on your own work is also valuable.
  6. Mentors don't always have to be older than their mentorees. The main objective is to be mentored by someone whose advice and experience you admire and respect.
  7. Don't try to force the relationship. You should both want to be at the table with the other person.

If you can't get together for a coffee or schedule a phone conversation, mentoring via email can be a great interim way to stay on track. Try to avoid using public platforms on social media (Twitter, Facebook) to solicit individual advice or consultation from your mentor, unless both of you are comfortable with making your coaching relationship public. And listen to my daughter -- listening comes first.

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