How To Become a Mentor
Most of the time I’ve heard questions about how to get a mentor, and how to manage an effective or productive relationship with a mentor. But what about the other side of the coin? The truth is, you’re probably already a mentor even if you haven’t noticed. That being said, a mentoring relationship in which both mentor and mentee are intentional, renders grander results that serve both parties. With that in mind, let’s explore questions you might have, such as when you should become a mentor, the ways you can make yourself available to guide others, and how to offer effective guidance.
When should I become a mentor?
Some might feel that they have yet a great deal to learn before even thinking of guiding others — and, they’re partially right. The moment you think you have stopped learning or have no more room for improvement, then you should think again. As Simon Sinek so rightfully puts it in his book “The Infinite Game”, you can never be done in business or learning only because improvement and knowledge aren’t finite — we’re always learning something new. That being said, any time is a good time to become a mentor, you don’t have to wait to become an all-star with 100% knowledge in a particular area, simply because that cannot happen — you’ll always be improving. There will also always be someone that is just starting out in an area of knowledge or skill, or that has less experience than you. Those are the folks that are waiting for someone like you to help guide them. The same thing goes for your mentors — they also have mentors of their own. This means that you are a part of a vast network of people who are both mentors and mentees.
How do I find mentees?
There are a few ways to match mentors and mentees — most of the time, it happens organically. One way is that mentees find you first. If they have done the exercise of reflecting on what they want to achieve and what skills they need to reach that goal, they’ll start looking for folks who excel at those skills or have reached that particular goal. That is the ideal scenario since they will reach out to particular people with specific questions.
That being said, not everyone might find someone who can spend the time with them or even know where to look for a mentor. That means that you need to keep your eyes open for folks around you that you think might benefit from your guidance. That doesn’t mean you should offer unsolicited advice, it means that you could make it known that you’re open to chat and answer any questions to help out in a particular topic. You want to open the channel of communication without assuming that someone needs help. You can declare this during a group meeting, in your social media channels, or simply in passing when you’re chatting with someone.
Another way to do it is to join a formal mentorship program where mentors and mentees are matched based on their interests and areas of expertise.
How should I offer advice or guidance?
A great mentor is someone who listens to their mentee and helps them find their own answers. This might sound familiar if you know about the Socratic Method,
“a form of cooperative argumentative dialogue between individuals, based on asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking and to draw out ideas and underlying presuppositions”.
A mentor should not tell a mentee what to do. After all, even though the mentee wants your help based on your experience and knowledge, we’re all unique. A mentee’s life experience will be vastly different from your own. Giving out prescriptive advice negates context and access that is unique to each person. That’s why it’s best to listen to your mentee’s questions, ask them to give you more context, and answer with questions. This might sound counterintuitive — how useful is it to answer a question with another question? Very.
This simple exercise helps the mentee find answers of their own, empowers them to make decisions, and develops their critical thinking. Here’s a simplified example:
Mentee: How should I offer feedback to a manager/coworker?
Mentor: How comfortable are you offering feedback to that person?
Mentee: I don’t know yet, we’ve just started working together.
Mentor: How have you delivered feedback in the past to other people?
Mentee: I did X and they reacted poorly. That’s why I want to act cautiously.
Mentor: OK, what do you think you could have done better to deliver that feedback back then?
Mentee: I think I could have first set the ground to offer the feedback. First, ask them if they wanted feedback, and then tell them that I thought they could be more successful if they did X.
Mentor: Great, with that example in mind, how do you think you can set the ground to offer feedback to your manager/coworker?
Mentee: I think I can ask them first. If they say yes, I can say that I believe they could be more successful if they did X.
Mentor: Excellent, then try it out. I would also recommend asking someone who has delivered feedback to that particular person in the past and ask them about their experience.
In this example, the mentor is digging deeper and asking questions for the mentee to self-analyze and arrive at their own conclusion. In the end, the mentor also gives additional recommendations. You might think, “well, anyone can ask “dig deep” questions.” It’s not about asking questions just for the sake of asking them. It’s about asking the right questions to help the mentee find the right answer and top it off with final recommendations.
Another way to offer guidance is to share an example of your own life experience. This doesn’t mean that the mentee should do the exact same thing you did in your situation, or even that the situations are similar, but it illustrates how they can manage a situation. Still, follow up with additional questions to help them arrive at their own conclusion.
In some instances, your mentee’s questions might be too vague or they might not yet be sure of what they want to achieve. If that is the case, you need to help them learn how to learn.
At the end of the day, be sure that now is a good time as any to become a mentor. Make yourself available for folks to ask questions and listen with intent. Help them arrive at their own conclusions. In this process, not only will you help your mentee achieve their goals, but you will also learn plenty of things yourself. After all, you too are learning from this experience.