It’s probably happened to you before. You sought out a known expert, somebody you thought would give you sage advice and be a perfect sounding board only to be let down by the experience. This person may have been a “mentor” but when it came to mentoring, he or she simply didn’t cut it.
It takes some to be a good mentor. I’ve had good mentors and I’ve had those that would fit the description above. Here are a few things the good ones taught to me…
- Make mentoring a priority. Unless it’s truly a can’t-be-avoided-at-any-cost conflict that comes up, keep your meeting with your mentee. If you constantly cancel or reschedule, not only are you providing limited value to your mentee, you are telling that person that they aren’t valuable to you. That’s a harsh message to come from one’s mentor.
- Share “why” as well as “how.” When I fist came on board at Microsoft, a mentor came my way to explain the culture. She told me which individuals I should include as well as when and why I should include them. She taught me about the corporate culture while never putting it down. Understanding why it was important to navigate the political landscape was incredibly valuable to my career. She could have simply taught me how to do it; instead she explained why, too.
- Don’t do for them what they can do for themselves. Long, long ago I was a technical person. The people I learned from the most were those who gave me a little information and then sent me on my way to figure it out on my own. They could have done it for me, but they didn’t. If they had, I wouldn’t have learned as much and I wouldn’t have learned it as quickly.
- Make connections. Good mentors understand when their expertise has been exhausted. If your mentee would learn more about a particular topic from someone else, introduce them. As a mentor you can also help grow your mentee’s network based on mutual interests. Help make this happen.
- Give your mentee homework. Share articles. Recommend books. Encourage him or her to take classes. Challenge them to do tasks in-between your meetings. Push your mentee to do more.
You may have additional examples of what your mentors have done for you. The main thing is to remember what your mentors did for you that worked and incorporate those into your personal experience of being a mentor to someone else. If you do have more ideas to add, please share them in the comments here.