Recently a gentleman I mentor, Jake Pusch, wrote an LinkedIn blog post called “4 Tips for the Ambitious Mentee”. I was tagged in the post as “the older guy” (ha ha), but I liked his advice for those wanting to establish and effective mentoring relationship. Thus I thought I should respond with tips for being a good mentor.
There is not much clear or useful information out there for mentors and mentees. While the idea of creating a successful mentor / mentee relationship sounds amazing, the truth is these connections rarely grow into long-term and mutually beneficial relationships. People start the connection with high hopes on both sides, but looking back there is often a whole lot of nothing.
I have been asked by about a dozen people to be their “mentor”, but it seems in most cases after one or two meetings or calls, they stop contacting me. Worse yet, they never follow up and tell me if my advice was helpful. But with Jake, and another mentee, Nicodmus Abowd, they are still around after six years and we have developed strong friendships. They have also become friends with each other.
Know What You Want From A Mentor
For those who seek a great mentor, you must be clear about the results you seek. Know the answer to the question “What is a mentor?“. Then you must take ownership of cultivating the relationship. In the early stages a mentor you cannot call the mentee and say “Hi, can I mentor you today?” That would be weird and maybe creepy. Eventually the friendship grows and it no longer matters who initiates contact, but early on the mentee must facilitate and set up the meetings.
Interestingly, as I research tips for being a good mentor, there is not much written that is useful for the mentor. There is some for the mentee, but even that is spotty at best.
While the mentee must be the one to instigate the relationship, there are things the mentor can do to ensure a they are helping the mentee and growing the relationship. Why take on the responsibility of developing a long-term connection with another person if you are not dedicated to having an impact on their life?
4 tips for being a good mentor
- Take a genuine interest. Not everyone cares about serving others in the role of mentor, guide, coach, etc… If you are not at a place where you want to do this, say no to the request. When you do take on a mentee, dive in and get to know that person. Ask them a lot of questions about their life and their goals. Let them know you care.
- Be available. In a world where we have limited time, the thought of being available for emails, texts, or phone calls can seem frightening. But I have found it is rare to hear from mentees too much (I am sure someone out there has stories of annoying people they committed to help, but that is not my experience). Most will never reach out often enough to build a meaningful connection. Let the mentee know how you want to be contacted and then be there to be a sounding board when they request some time.
- Help the mentee set goals. The best thing a mentor can do is push the mentee beyond their comfort zone and help them identify what they want in the long term from a career path. Without goals it is easy to job-hop or take shortcuts. I regularly ask mentees “does this action lead you closer to your main goals or take you farther away?” The answer to that simple question keeps them focused. The world is hard to navigate if you are lone to reinvent the wheel with every decision.
- Never tell them what to do. A mentor is not a replacement parent (although Nic and Jake have nicknamed me “Fake Dad”). You are not there to tell them what to do, but to share with them scenarios, possibilities, and bumps in the road. The role of mentor is to help the mentee learn and make informed career and life decisions. Most likely you were chosen as a mentor because you have experience. But having experience does equal having all the answers.
The Mentor Learns Too
I have found being a mentor has brought me a lot of joy. My mentees have become my friends and I enjoy spending time with them. But more importantly, I am proud of them for how committed they are to growing in career and life. I had many people who helped me along my journey, but wish I had developed closer ties to those people. As they become more successful you can know you helped more than that one person, but everyone they encounter and serve in the future.
Too often in our society we are seeing the generations drawing lines of demarcation. But cross-generational networking is important to people of all generations. At every age we should be building connections with people older and younger. However I observe at most events, if given a choice, people tend to talk with those of similar ages. Everyone should seek out contacts who are from diverse backgrounds, and this includes age.
I also learn a lot from those whom I am mentoring. They are the first call I make when I do not understand SnapChat or what a certain emoji means (hey, these are real issues for people over 50). Over time I have come to know more about what millennials are up to in their daily lives than I probably wanted to know.
If you agree to be a mentor, embrace the relationship and do your part to serve the person. Do not put up walls, but be fully transparent about your own successes and failure along your journey. To be a great mentor you have to become a real friend.
What is your take on my tips to be a good mentor? Do they help? Let me know.