A mentor is someone who allows you to see the hope inside yourself. – Oprah Winfrey
Whether it is students, entrepreneurs, CEOs of billion-dollar enterprises, start-up founders, or new recruits at a company, everyone benefits from mentoring. Mentoring is a process through which a mentor helps his or her mentees develop their core competencies and become better leaders.
The concept of a “mentor” has its origins in ancient Greek mythology. In the epic Odyssey by Homer, Odysseus embarks on a long journey, leaving behind his infant son, Telemachus.
A few years later, Telemachus, now in his teens, yearns to know more about his father’s exploits and is desperately seeking a father figure to guide him.
Keen to help him in this quest, Athena, the Goddess of Wisdom, comes to Earth in the form of “Mentor”, an old family friend who is there to guide Telemachus through the perils of his teenage years.
And since then, the word has stuck.
Over the last few years, this ancient Greek concept has begun to acquire a renewed significance and importance. Today’s businesses and their leaders understand the importance of mentoring and consider it a valuable tool that can enhance the performance of their employees.
By forging a strong mentoring partnership, it is possible for people to:
- Become effective communicators
- Adopt a practical viewpoint
- Analyze situations
- Advance careers as desired
There are various ways in which one can establish a mentoring relationship with someone, depending on the setting. In an educational environment, a senior student can mentor a junior who has just joined the same program. There could also be classroom-style mentoring between a professional instructor and a learner.
In a corporate environment, a senior employee usually mentors fresh recruits.
In the same way, managers and business leaders can form a mentoring relationship with the subordinates in their teams. The needs of a mentee determine who can be an ideal mentor for him or her.
To be a good mentor, you need to have the following qualities:
Capability and desire to share knowledge
It is natural for a mentor to be seen as an expert or thought leader in a field of work or knowledge. However, simply being good at one’s work does not make one a great teacher or guide.
If you follow sports, you would know that the greatest players don’t necessarily make the best coaches and vice versa.
A mentor isn’t just someone who knows a lot of jargon, clichés, and quotes.
To become a great mentor, one requires the ability to clearly and concisely communicate knowledge to others. Great mentors don’t hold back their best lessons or key learnings. You either share it all with your mentee, or you share nothing at all.
Readiness to commit
When you agree to mentor someone, you make a profound and long-term commitment to your mentee. You have to trust the learner and be ready to devote your time and effort to transform him or her.
For a successful partnership, both the mentor and mentee have to show enthusiasm and interest in the mentorship arrangement.
You must be ready with a detailed plan on what, when, and how you are going to share learnings with your mentee.
Desire to support the other
The relationship between a mentor and mentee has to be a two-way street, free of insecurities and second-guessing.
To be a good mentor, you must make your mentee feel comfortable approaching you whenever they need to.
It doesn’t mean that the mentee should be free to disturb a mentor at 2 am every day for trivial issues. However, if and when the mentee faces a problem, the mentor should be available to spend some quality time with them and help them work through their problem.
Honesty and tact
Unresolved issues can cause concerns or future problems. It is imperative that mentors are honest and open with their mentees.
Don’t let any social etiquette or formalities come in the way of you “telling it as it is” to your mentee. Don’t be stingy with your praise and don’t hold back on any constructive criticism.
Your mentees repose their faith in you to guide them through tricky scenarios. Hence, anything short of providing helpful and frank advice that contributes to the mentee’s success will be dishonesty.
At the same time, the mentor has a responsibility to ensure that the mentee’s success is built on a bedrock of fair and scrupulous behavior.
Helping the mentee grab a business deal or secure a favor by unfair means is out of the question.
The power of learning is as central to your development as a mentor as it is to your mentee’s professional growth.
In this era, cutting-edge technology becomes obsolete in about five years or less.
Think about smartphones. You will realize that features offered by today’s low-budget phones are comparable to what high-end devices offered a few years ago.
The same can be true of a professional’s skill sets and knowledge.
Keep upgrading your knowledge to the latest and best there is.
It is obvious that a mentor should have the best interests of their mentee at heart.
Yet the relationship is not akin to friendship. This is a bond where you commit to the professional growth of your mentee.
One should avoid getting entangled in their mentee’s private life. Any insidious plan of taking advantage of the equation is an absolute no-no. Check yourself if you recognize that it has been happening subconsciously.
The need to maintain fairness and propriety doesn’t mean that you have to be stiff and disconnected.
On the contrary, you need to be willing to understand and support the mentee by understanding their traits and giving the most relevant advice.
Great mentors don’t sign out of the program at the end of a session. They create life-long value for their mentees.
Everyone wants to succeed and become well-known for their professional achievements. Success is the ultimate motivation that drives people out of their beds at 5 am on a freezing winter morning. It makes them endure the two-hour commute to work.
In a professional journey, there are bound to be challenges that have the potential to derail painstaking progress. These can often be tackled with the help of expertise and experience.
It is this experience and expertise that mentors bring to the table.
Even if you are not able to find a mentor within your circles or at the workplace, you can find one through established programs and mentorship courses.
Harappa Education’s Managing Teamwork course is an excellent program for those looking for tips on guiding teams and individuals. The program introduces learners to the GRIN—Goals, Roles, Interdependence and Norms—Framework which will help one understand the key characteristics of effective teams.