6 Strategies To Make You The Best Mentor

You’re overseeing three huge projects. You’ve got five calls today, then two meetings. Your boss wants that budget by the end of the week, and it’s in bad shape (shh!). Your kid gets out of school early, you haven’t planned dinner, and, oh yeah, you’re still trying to fit in some kind of exercise. So … you’re telling me that I’m also supposed to fit in some kind of mentoring?!

Um … yeah?

We know you’re busy. But if you think about it for a minute, mentoring turns out to be a great way to help your company, give back to your employees, and — in case those reasons aren’t enough — boost your own career.

What other activity can give you valuable leadership experience, new perspectives on your company and workplace, and the motivation to be aware of what’s happening in different departments — all at once? Not only that, but being a great leader to someone helps you identify the next generation of leaders more easily.

For some people, mentoring comes naturally. For others, it’s more of a challenge. Whichever camp you’re in, here are some tips to maximize the relationship.

1.) Model the work ethic you teach

Frankly, the easiest way to mentor people is to be the employee you want them to be. Communicate well. Be friendly and supportive (or cutthroat and rude, if that’s what you’re after). Take on difficult tasks, and handle them with a smile.

Hands-on teaching is great, but often the most powerful lessons are unspoken.

2.) Don’t give answers

Ah, isn’t it nice to regale employees with stories of your hard-won knowledge? Sure is. And isn’t it also nice to have to sit there while your mentor bores you silly telling endless stories? Yeah — not so much.

Good mentoring isn’t about telling employees what to do. It’s about pointing them in the right direction, then asking questions to help them figure things out. Give them tools and give them guidance. But if you’re telling them the answers, they’re not learning.

3.) Be a social assistant

Here’s one difference between being a good employer and being a good mentor: a good mentor helps run their mentee’s social calendar, facilitating meetings, coffee, or even short introductions with important people throughout the company. Your job as a mentor isn’t just to impart knowledge, it’s to use your networks to help your mentees’ careers.

This is great for you, because it forces you to know people across your company. It’s great for your company, since it gives more people the opportunity to share knowledge. And it’s best for your mentee, because it gives them connections that would otherwise take years to develop.

4.) Explain the unspoken

This is arguably the mentor’s biggest job. Despite written guidelines, most of what happens in a workplace follows unspoken rules. Teams tend to self-organize around people’s strengths and weaknesses, and over time accommodating different people’s quirks. The longer a team’s been together, the more entrenched these unspoken rules become.

As a mentor, you need to communicate this information to your mentee. Who should they not talk to until that person has had their morning coffee? Whom can you speak to honestly, and who do you have to stay careful around? Who is friends with whom? Who needs everything right away, and who is cool with waiting a day?

One bonus: the more you can articulate these things in words, the more opportunities there are to make things more efficient, or to improve team morale!

5.) Leave room for your mentee to be right

As the mentor, you might imagine you have all the answers. You’re partly right: you do have some of the answers. But the mentor relationship is also an opportunity for the people you mentor to have someone they can pitch ideas to, knowing that it will be ok to do so.

If you want the people you mentor to trust you, you should give some space for your them to come up with answers that are — at times — better than yours.

6.) Set shared goals

For a productive mentorship, work to create a set of shared goals. You can help your mentee figure out where they want to be and how they can get there, and you can figure out what you can do to help them achieve those goals. Maybe that means giving them a little more responsibility. Maybe it means passing their name along to a trusted colleague. Maybe it means giving the honest feedback that they need (but may not want to hear).

The point is to see mentorship as a relationship: a shared experience that should help both of you succeed.