While having a mentor can make a significant difference in your career, being one can also be a valuable experience—that comes with a lot of responsibility. A great mentor doesn’t just provide guidance and answers during career transitions or sticky situations; she also provides motivation and inspiration to help her mentee get to the next level and fulfill her potential.
Want to be a great mentor? Consider these five key skills.
“Listen first,” says Whitney Gonzales, marketing manager at Liingo Eyewear. “Think of yourself as a life coach. A good mentor always navigates the mentee to a solution or a next step; they don’t solve it for them. Help to remove roadblocks for your mentee, and alternatively, create bridges for them. Also understand that your mentee is not you, so they will want or need to carve their own professional path. You don’t need to be a perfect, shining example either. Your failures and hardships throughout life and your career are just as valuable to your mentee as are your successes. And realize, sometimes you are just there to listen.”
A good listening tip is to take notes during your mentoring sessions to stay actively engaged. If you can give your mentee some direction, make sure to follow up on that direction the next time you meet: “I remember you were going to ask for the promotion. How did that go?”
- Deliver honest feedback.
“I love mentors that keep it real and give honest feedback, including pointed criticism,” says Coral Chung, co-founder of luxury handbag brand Senreve. “While it’s wonderful to get support and be cheered on, it’s also important to hear things that other people are not willing to say. In the early days of Senreve, some of my best mentors were also my harshest critics, but that was okay because it helped me improve, and it showed that they have high expectations from me. Ultimately, their early feedback allowed me to have a very successful launch and first year of the company.”
“A mentor’s job is to provide knowledge, inspiration, and feedback to help light way,” adds Demi Marchese, founder of 12th Tribe. “You have to be comfortable enough to be constructive and not be afraid of critiquing their work. Don’t beat around the bush. Understand who you are speaking to, their needs, their strengths and where they want to go.”
- Motivate and inspire.
“The key for me personally is to influence and inspire the next generation to become strong, motivated, confident, and thoughtful leaders,” says Laurel Berman, founder and creative director of Black Halo. “If I’m able to accomplish that, I consider the mentorship a success.”
Adds Marchese, “Part of your role is inspiring your mentee to reach their fullest potential and challenging their comfort zone. Help them achieve the uncomfortable.”
Pro tip: A little goes a long way. Send an article when you see something relevant for your mentee—you’ll see how a small act can have a tremendous impact.
- Establish mutual respect.
“The relationship should be based on mutual respect, trust and support,” says Maryann Bruce, former president of Evergreen Investments Services. “The partnership needs to foster acceptance and safety where both parties feel safe enough to communicate openly and take risks without the threat of being judged, ridiculed or condescended to.”
One of the biggest ways to show respect for someone is by valuing their time. When you mentor someone, the truth is, you may be in a position of power and your time may be in fact more valuable—but that’s irrelevant. To you, this may be a quick call, but to your mentee, this may be the most important meeting of the day—so treat it as such.
“Show up, engage and participate,” says Berman. “They say that showing up is half the battle, but when you do show up, it’s crucial to be fully present, proactive and take initiative. Be prepared to share your experiences, both positive and negative.”
“Mentors should be open and honest with their mentees,” adds Melissa Musgrove, vice president, head of social media at Regions Financial Corporation. “Be willing to make time to offer advice, but also realize that no two career paths are the same, and the mentee’s decisions and career path are ultimately up to them. Oftentimes, mentors have just as much to learn as mentees. So look not only for what advice you can give, but also use it as an opportunity to learn from someone who has a different perspective and background.”
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