The Responsibility & Commitment of Being a Mentor
There is a level of responsibility and commitment that comes with being a mentor. Whether you entered a formal mentorship program or organically became a mentor, the fact of the matter is that someone is trusting your expertise and advice to guide their life choices. This doesn’t mean you should tell them what to do or say (which, you shouldn’t), but you are influencing the way they are looking at their circumstances and opportunities going forward. With that in mind, it’s important to reflect on several elements, including your availability and commitment to their success, your listening skills, and the way you offer advice or feedback.
Availability and commitment
If you’re evaluating joining a formal mentoring program, it’s easier to set expectations. The organizers will (ideally) share details with you on time commitment and logistics. This will give you a clear picture of how much time you will need to spend with the mentee(s). Also keep in mind to add time to prepare for those meetings, just as you would with any other meeting.
If, on the other hand, a potential mentee has reached out to you, or you otherwise organically become a mentor, you need to set expectations upfront with the mentee. They should be the ones guiding the number of interactions based on their need for advice or consultation, yet you should still set expectations with them on how to best reach out. For example, you could commit to being available for email at any time, and if there’s a need for a meeting, go for a cup of coffee or meet for 30 minutes.
Be honest with yourself on whether you can commit to dedicating time to the mentee or not, and set those expectations up front. If things change, where your calendar becomes either busier or more flexible, always communicate that as well. Unfortunately, it is more often than not that mentors and mentees start out with great excitement, only to slowly deprioritize the relationship. Be intentional about your dedication and always be transparent when something else comes up. If you commit, you want to be fully present for the mentee.
Even though the mentee is reaching out for your expertise and perhaps because you achieved something they want to achieve as well, that doesn’t mean that you should tell them what to do. That defeats the purpose of a mentor.
Mentors are guides. As such, their primary job is to actively listen and understand the mentee’s unique abilities, circumstances, and goals. Then ask questions back to the mentee so they can reflect on their own circumstances and come up with their own answers.
Offering advice and feedback
When the mentee is asking for advice and you have already tried asking questions as noted above, there might be times where actual advice is needed to help paint a more concrete picture for the mentee. In this case, try to frame it as to what you, as a mentor, would do in your own life, or an example of what you’ve already done. This is important as it continues down the line of not telling them what to do, as you don’t have the full context of their unique life experience. However, it does paint a picture of what is possible.
If the mentee is asking for feedback, ask them to be specific as to what they’re trying to understand or improve. Based on that, offer candid feedback; show the mentee that you believe they are capable of doing more and better, and then offer specific examples of what you have done in your own life to paint the picture — just as noted above. If you work closely with the mentee and have more context, then you could offer more specific advice on what that person could try. Just to reiterate, you are still not telling the mentee what they should do, yet you’re giving concrete examples. Ultimately, it’s up to the mentee to make their own choices.
At the end of the day, as a mentor, you’re guiding life choices. That, in on itself, is powerful enough. Make sure you’re present, available, and committed to the mentee’s success. Only then can you truly be a multiplier.