Talent Development

Advice for First-Time Mentors

By Natalie BarbaAugust 11, 2016

The benefits of mentoring are clear. Mentees get the opportunity to bounce ideas off of and learn from professionals who are more experienced then they are. Mentors get to improve their leadership skills by practicing developing others and get to revisit lessons they’ve already learned, and may have forgotten. Both parties also gain exposure to a completely different perspective.

While it’s true that there are clear upsides to mentoring someone, taking someone under your wing may not be the easiest commitment to make – there is no specific structure around the partnership, and for first time mentors, this may be intimidating.

When asked for tips on mentoring someone for the first time, here’s what our community had to say:

Get to know one another on a personal level

Paul Toth shares, despite the fact that a mentorship is mainly a professional relationship, getting to know one another beyond a professional setting helps make the relationship feel more at ease. “I suggest you each share personal information about family, friends, and other social niceties. The mentor-mentee relationship will be much more successful the better that you get to know each other. Although the normal mentor-mentee relationship is primarily a business one, the human interaction is what makes it work!”

As you get to know one another better, you’ll feel more comfortable sharing your thoughts, experiences, recommendations, and feedback, all of which are essential in a successful partnership.

Encourage your mentee to come to the first meeting prepared with specific goals

Narayan Kamath suggests that in order for the partnership to be successful, you should “always have an overarching goal for the relationship and specific goals the mentee hopes to achieve.” Having these established at the beginning will provide your conversations with direction and therefore set your partnership up for success.

But, goal setting shouldn’t end there. Roger Tobin shares it’s helpful to “do joint goal setting at the end of each conversation, and check-in on progress non-judgmentally at the next meeting.” There should be clear action items for the mentee to take on at the end of each meeting. These action items should align with and serve as milestones for the goals set at the beginning of your partnership.

Clearly communicate expectations from the start

Communicate from both sides, regarding your partnership’s structure and format. Robert Lee shares a few questions that may help lay some ground rules during your first conversation, “What does each person expect and what will they contribute to the relationship? How fast will people respond if email and how much time will be available to meet? What is frequency of interaction? What is the short and long term definition of success?”

Toth adds that during your first meeting, you should “formally set up your communications plan, or how and how often you will communicate with each other. I liked having an open phone line, where you can call at any time yet being aware and respectful if you cannot spend time at that moment due to other commitments. However, make sure that you each commit to getting back as soon as possible that same day.”

It’s also important to agree on how long the formal partnership will last. While it’s likely that when that time comes the two of you will remain in touch, there should be a date set for you to reevaluate the partnership, progress made on goals, and allow you to set new partnership expectations.

Allow your mentee to drive the partnership

As Kamath puts it, as a mentor, you must “let the mentee take the lead. You must not want more or less for the mentee than what the mentee wants him or herself. You would do well to suspend judgment and let the mentee discover for himself/herself if the goals are right for them.”

We all know that employees perform best when they feel a sense of autonomy and ownership over their work. The same applies here. Your mentee will make the most progress on goals that align with their ambitions and passions.

Keep in mind that asking questions and listening are more powerful than giving answers

Paul Russell suggests that as a mentor, you “ask probing questions to help guide the mentee through the process. Rather than assuming you know the answers, ask a series of questions to understand the situation.” Then, instead of telling your mentee how to handle the situation, continue asking questions that will provoke them to think of their own solution.

Tobin adds it’s important to emphasize the fact that you’re there to support your mentee, “help the mentee feel at ease talking to you. Explain that you are there to listen and then do that. Help guide the conversation with open ended questions. Use reflective conversational methods to help the mentee develop their concerns and questions.”

Understand that your experiences aren’t necessarily universal

Simply put, Ramzi Najm advises you “recognize that you don’t know everything but you are experienced and can help your mentee develop the skill of learning from experiences.”

In large part, what we know comes from our own experiences, so it makes sense that we’d like to share these with others. While this is true, Kamath shares it’s key to remember that we’re all different and in different settings, under different circumstances. He reminds us that individuals’ “experience and achievements happen in a different time and context. Therefore, more than our experience, it is the principles or learnings from our experience that would be most valuable to the mentee.”

Again, it’s most important to listen to your mentee, how their situation differs from yours in order to try to fully understand the context, and only then try to apply your learnings to it.

In summary:

  • Allow for your conversations to flow naturally by talking about
  • Set clear goals and expectations from the get-go
  • Instead of prescribing solutions, guide your mentee to come up with their own by asking thought-provoking questions

Join the Everwise community as a mentor, and read the full discussion here.

Natalie Barba

Natalie Barba

Community Operations

About the Author

As Associate Community Manager at Everwise, Natalie focuses on engaging with a global community of professionals and connecting them with one another. She’s passionate about working with children and supporting others’ growth.

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