How to be a mentor

How to be an exceptional mentor

I sometimes get asked, “What’s the difference between a coach and a mentor?”

My answer is usually something along the lines of, “a lot and they can both be really helpful.”

What is a coach?

If you read this blog regularly, you probably have a pretty good sense of what a coach is.

We help leaders (and up and coming leaders), figure out how to be their very best — in a way that works for them.

We use provocative questions (open-ended, bigger than everyday questions) and we use techniques like appreciative enquiry to imagine the desired future and figure out what’s in the way — drawing-out where they want to be and, most importantly, how to get there.

Good coaches are highly trained, experienced, and certified by the International Coach Federation.

They use their training, continuing education and deep knowledge to help you achieve things you might have thought impossible.

So, what is a mentor?

Mentors, on the other hand, are generally folks who have been there before you.

They’ve likely succeeded in a role similar to yours and have their own experience that they can share with you.

Sometimes their experience may have been difficult or unsuccessful and there is much to learn from that.

Or, their experience may have been wonderful and highly successful and, if you can emulate them while remaining true to yourself, you too may have success.

You can probably see why both coaching and mentoring would be helpful. You already know we can offer you a great coaching experience.

So today we wanted to give some ideas on how to be a good mentor and things to think about if you’re setting up a mentoring program in your organization.

What EXACTLY makes a great mentor?

First, if you’re going to be a mentor, think of yourself as a “learning facilitator” rather than a problem solver.

Help your protégé find people and other resources outside of your own experience and knowledge.

Emphasize questions over advice. This is a coaching technique that works well for mentors too.

Ask about what’s being said and what’s not. If they talk only about facts, ask about feelings. If they’re focused on feelings, ask him or her to review the facts.

If they’re stuck on an immediate crisis, ask some genuinely curious, open-ended questions about the big picture. This helps them see alternative interpretations and approaches.

Don’t hesitate to share your own experiences, lessons learned, and advice, but emphasize that your experiences could be different from theirs and so should be thought of only as examples, and food for thought.

Limit your urge to solve the problem for them.

Resist the temptation to control the relationship and steer its outcomes; your protégé is responsible for their own success.

Know that your role is not just to help them build skills — it’s also to help them build confidence. You can help with that through supportive feedback and by helping them see what they do well.

Help them reflect on successful strategies they’ve used in the past that could apply to new challenges.

“In your last role, can you think of a time something like this happened to you?”

Be spontaneous now and then.

Beyond your planned conversations, call or e-mail “out of the blue” just to leave an encouraging word or something you’ve been reflecting on in your own role that might be helpful for them too.

Reflect on your role as mentor and ask them for feedback. Talk to other mentors too.

Enjoy your time as a mentor, knowing that this opportunity will undoubtedly boost your own awareness and success just as it helps your colleague.

Coach’s Question:

Who already sees you as a mentor? Or who do you see as your mentor? And how could you establish a more successful mentoring relationship?

If you’re already a formal mentor, what could you be more purposeful about? Which of the ideas above are you going to start using?