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7 Tips to Boost Mentor Skills and Impact

Updated: Apr 9

You’ve agreed to be a mentor. So now what?

A great mentor has the potential to make a positive and significant impact on another’s trajectory. Whether in the role temporarily to help problem-solve or for a longer-term supportive relationship, the experience holds the power to provide developmental and defining moments for both parties.

This incredibly honorable position creates opportunities to serve, give back and support rising professionals. In fact, exceptional mentorship requires intention and a number of skills. For example, during instances when your mentee just doesn’t seem to “get it,” your wisdom, modeling of patience, curiosity, genuine interest, healthy communication, and feedback will provide tremendous value.

Here are seven tips for mentors to make the most of the relational experience.

Be Curious. Stay Curious.

The mentor’s commitment goes well beyond sharing advice, stories, and perspectives. It’s as much about listening and learning as it is sharing. Be genuine. Ask questions and explore what motivates, inspires and worries your mentee. Allow yourself to be a student of your mentee. Appreciate all you can learn from their experience. Be the Example

Leadership begins with personal example. Your mentee will never internalize a belief that they can and will find their own path if he or she does not experience you as one who has learned from your journey.

After all, a mentee looks up to you because you’ve achieved excellence. You’ve made significant contributions to the world through personal character and learning from pitfalls.

Walt Whitman quote and bookshelf

Embrace the Changing World

If you are from a different generation, it may seem like a whole different ballgame; however, as mentor, you can greatly benefit from embracing the changing dynamics in your industry. Change is a constant and so are you.

We never stop growing up. We all have something to learn. You likely did not find your first job out of college with a smartphone, LinkedIn account, or perhaps even the Internet. Now you are more than accustomed to the ways of today’s world having used these tools to leverage your professional career. Why not use stories about how you’ve adapted to today's world to encourage your mentee to embrace change and explore cutting-edge ways of advancing their career? Communicate Authentic Confidence in your Mentee

Mentees often experience at least some intimidation about interacting with someone who is further along in his or her career.

You’ve clearly invested time in someone because you believe in his or her ability to succeed. So why not communicate that directly?

“I believe you have what it takes to do big things in your career” is a terrific way to empower a mentee to devote extra effort towards their communication, behavior and decision-making.

Young Black boy in shirt and tie and red cape holding arms up

Set Healthy Boundaries

As odd as it may sound, at times there may be a tendency for the mentee to approach the mentor similar to a parental figure. They may react to your words instead of responding to them, perhaps seeking a quick fix for every roadblock. Don’t fall into this trap, as you are not the silver bullet. There isn’t one. The job of the mentee is to come up with solutions they can test within the context of a supportive relationship. Define the types of questions you can and cannot answer. Encourage the mentee to provide responses to their own questions. Together, you can listen and work on perspective and planning. Be mindful of your time while remaining clear about how often you can talk or meet. Identify balance within your level of comfort and competence. Affirm your worth by explicitly telling the mentee when you are willing to help work through challenges. Communicate clearly when your personal or professional boundaries have been crossed or the request is outside of your bounds of competence. In fact, it’s a great practice to identify and refer to more appropriate resources when other helpful connections can be made.

Graphic saying "creating healthy boundaries" with a fence

Demonstrate Empathy and Patience

"The great gift of human beings is that we have the power of empathy." - Meryl Streep Your mentee’s success will not come overnight. Sustainable career development requires many small wins, struggles, and life lessons.

Have the perspective-of-mind and emotional intelligence to hear out major problems while holding the mentee accountable to the more immediate steps needed to achieve longer-term goals. Their vision may be great, but execution under developed. Big accomplishments take time. Great mentors see beyond the quick fix and appreciate the journey. Help your mentee keep their eye on the ball, their vision in the blue sky and their steps practical.

Within the context of a safe and supportive relationship, patience and empathy for the mentee’s struggles and fears helps the mentee persist towards both short and longer-term goals. While you may not always understand the mentee's experience, you can work hard to appreciate it.

Little paper robot looking at leaf forlornly

Encourage Clear Goals and Deadlines

Well-intentioned advice such as, “contact this person,” or “just get an interview, ” can create more confusion than clarity. This approach to guidance may generate uncertainty around what it takes to achieve the goal. Yes, your advice in terms of the “what” may be clear, but the “how” may be confused. Clearly defining specific behaviors that have the possibility to lead to hopeful results can go a long way towards inspiring productive activity.

For example, if the mentee needs to find a job, instead of saying, “Go for it” try saying, “Complete five job applications by Sunday.” The latter suggestion provides something tangible and actionable with a clear endpoint.

Think big, be clear, act small. Work with your mentee on SMART goals.

Goal setting list on a notebook with glasses nearby

It's common to automatically offer guidance solely based on personal experience. Balance what you know about yourself with what you know about your mentee. Set yourself apart by helping the mentee leverage his or her unique strengths, opportunities, and drives.

Continue to strive towards becoming a greater version of yourself. This is how you will make the greatest impact towards inspiring another to hit that next big career milestone.

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