Getting the most out of mentorship – The mentor

The Mentorship Challenge, with Marc Wainer connects people across geographical, cultural and industrial boundaries. And this is all thanks to the time, talent and wisdom of the mentors featured on the show and online. We wanted to unpack their insights more fully than the television show allows. Because ultimately, it’s all about the meetings, moments, milestones – and mistakes! – that led them to the leaders they are today.

First things first, this is what mentorship is NOT:

  • A one-way street
  • A checklist or tick box
  • A lecture
  • An armchair experience
  • A short cut or quick fix
  • A power play

It is a relationship – and, if all goes well, a lifelong one at that!

Mentorship made easy? Here are some helpful hints on how to build that relationship:

1. Get personal

Get to know your mentee first, before you even engage on matters of business. Mentoring is a deeply personal journey, and has the promise of a profound relationship, so establish the trust and grow the bond early on. This will set the tone and make way for honest and direct communication going forward.

2. Put your heart into it, right from the start

Mentoring requires commitment and dedication: of your time, your energy, your resources, your network, your ideas, your experience and, most importantly, your wisdom. It also requires a healthy dose of honesty and openness. So, start with being sincere, open and receptive.

3. Be a guide, not a guru

If a mentee hangs on to your every word and looks to you for every thought, decision and action, it’s not mentorship. Mentorship is allowing the mentee to find their own answers, to discover their own purpose, and determine their own success. You are the guide who gently nudges them when they need it.

4. Don’t seek consensus, but do try to find common ground

You may be worlds apart in your thinking, and that may make for robust debate and real discovery: we often do best when we are challenged. But the aim is to find the middle ground, and common ground – and build from there.

5. Allow your mentee space to find their voice, even if it doesn’t align with yours

Mentoring is always a dialogue. The mentee may feel a little overwhelmed and tongue-tied in your presence. It’s up to you to set them at ease and create a safe space where they feel confident enough to speak. Be willing to abandon your prejudices and assumptions; you may be pleasantly surprised.

6. Be fully present and listen

If you’re only giving your mentee half an ear, they’ll soon sense this, and feel invalidated and demotivated as a result. The greatest leaders are always active listeners, and it’s a skill you can model for your mentee.

7. Do An informal needs assessment

Ask the mentee what their priorities are in meeting with you. Which aspects of their job or career do they want to know about most? What areas are they hoping to improve in?

8. Co-create a mentoring contract

Set the ground rules, code of conduct, boundaries, timelines and expectations right from the start. Break it down to a granular level: how often will you meet in person, what times during the day are best for both of you, what modes of communication do you both prefer, and so on. Clarity goes hand in hand with commitment. It’s important that your mentee doesn’t feel ignored, and that you don’t feel harassed.

9. Agree on and set clear and attainable goals

Thrash out the goal you both want to achieve – even if, at this stage, it may just be a dream – and set your sights on getting there, together. Both of you need to understand your ‘why’ – why are you embarking on this mentoring journey and what do you hope to achieve together?

10. Agree on what success looks like

Establish your mutual understanding of the metric for success – is it personal growth, professional excellence, purpose-driven or profit-propelled? Define what you both understand by the word ‘success’.

11. Don’t create a clone. Don’t breed a copycat

Mentorship is not about finding a mini-me – it’s about finding the magic in the differences between you and your mentee. And there may just be some learning in there for you too.

12. Foster independence and decision-making

If you’re doing all the work, it isn’t working. Empower your mentee to take decisions – and action. Give support, but not direction.

13. Shape problem-solvers, don’t solve their problems

It’s not your responsibility to come up with the solutions. That’s the mentee’s job. But you can introduce them to the power of critical thinking.

14. Find and unlock potential, together

As a leader, this is probably one of your superpowers: seeing and developing potential in others – and it’s the hallmark of a great mentor. But the mentee has to be willing to work hard at finding their own superpower/s.

15. Empower your mentee enough that they may become a future mentor

There’s nothing more gratifying than sharing your wisdom, and then seeing it proliferate for the greater good. Give your mentee the skills to share what they have learnt from you.

16. Don’t abuse the relationship

There’s an uneven power dispensation at work in the relationship, by virtue of your vast experience and expertise. Don’t abuse that power imbalance or take advantage of the relationship.

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