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How to Be a Good Mentor Your Mentee Listens to

Mentors are loved by mentees and employers alike. They are great leaders, show empathy for people in sticky situations, and know their skills in and out. But how can you be a good mentor?

Why should you become a mentor?

Let’s start with the why. Mentors are needed, and people are looking for a mentor, but what’s in it for you? This may sound selfish at first, but it’s a good thing to consider: Being a mentor is a substantial time investment, and there is a lot of responsibility on your shoulders, so be clear about what you are getting out of this first.

A way to give back

Most likely you had a mentor in your life too, be it a teacher or someone at your workplace. Becoming a mentor yourself keeps those wheels turning and ensures that the next generation has their own set of mentors as well.

Polishing your skills

However much you think you know about something, getting other people to understand it too will shape and polish your skills substantially. It’s no coincidence that learning by teaching is its own field of pedagogy.

Bonus points with employers

You care about someone, make sure they succeed. You push people forward, help them learn and train your own teaching skills, all while polishing important skill sets. Employers like that, and you shouldn’t be surprised to find yourself in leadership positions soon.

The deepest network possible

That mentee who joined Apple, that other mentee who now runs their own startup – mentors are rarely forgotten, and as a longterm mentor, you have deep relationships with the people that shape tomorrow.

Different Types of Mentors

Not all mentors are the same. Mentors have different levels of experience, expertise, and knowledge. Some mentors are more hands-off, providing general guidance and letting their mentees find their own way. Others are more involved, offering specific advice and feedback on a regular basis.

Before you can become a mentor to someone, you have to identify what will make you a good fit for your mentee. Keep in mind that mentees may need different types of mentors at different stages of their careers.

For instance, a startup entrepreneur has different mentoring needs than a newly-grad looking for a job. So, it’s not uncommon for mentees to have several mentors throughout their life and career journey.

The question is, what mentor type are you? By knowing what type of mentor you are, you can align yourself with the right mentee.

1. Personal Mentor: The Anchor

As a personal mentor, you help your mentee figure out their goals and aspirations. You are there for emotional support and guidance. You give advice on relationships, family, finances, health, and other personal issues.

To be a good personal mentor, you have to know your mentee on a more personal level. They can be long-time friends, work colleagues, or those who hold you in high regard because of your wisdom, good judgment, and astuteness.

You take on the role of a life coach whom mentees can turn to for advice. In turn, you help set priorities and develop a plan to achieve their goals and help them stay on track as they navigate their professional and personal goals.

Being a personal mentor, you must know how to mentor individuals by identifying their strengths and using them as a means to achieve their goals. You help them cultivate the right mindset and positive emotions that will prepare them for the challenges along the way.

Mentees regard you as a role model, an adviser, a cheerleader, and a support system rolled into one. In this aspect, being a good mentor requires you to be an active listener so that you can tailor your mentorship approach to fit the needs of your mentees. You must always have your mentee’s best interest in mind when you offer your insights and advice.

How to be a mentor to an individual wanting a mid-life career change

Changing careers is always a big decision to make. Your mentee highly trusts you and will most likely hold on to your every word. So, you have to dispense advice objectively without discouraging. You have to discuss crucial matters that will have a significant impact on the financial, physical, and mental health of your mentee.

As a personal mentor, you need to listen to your mentee’s concerns. It’s not your job to solve their problems, but you must be able to provide insights on various career options that align with their goals.

2. Expert Mentor: The Master of Your Craft

When you are an expert in your field, you are highly regarded by those who want to acquire and develop the same skillsets you have with the intention of using those skills to achieve what you have achieved.

Like a master craftsman, you have the skills and experience that make you one of the best in your industry. Think of Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Warren Buffet.

Through your wisdom and expertise, which you have accumulated through years of hard work and experience, you are in the best position to mentor individuals who are starting their careers in the field.

For instance, if you have become successful in creating a multi-million dollar tech company, you can be a tech startup mentor who can help mentees build and grow their business. Even established tech entrepreneurs may seek your guidance in figuring out how to overcome obstacles and put themselves in a better position to succeed.

People who are still finding their tech stride can benefit from your mentorship because you have a proven track record in the industry and a real understanding of the market. They see you as the missing puzzle piece who will help catapult their business to new heights.

How to become a mentor for a tech startup founder

Thirty-three percent of startup founders who are mentored by successful entrepreneurs have become top performers themselves. This is a compelling reason why tech startup founders need mentors in their corner.

Tech startup founders need all the help they can get—from funding to product development to emotional support. As a mentor, your success is their yardstick. They want to be aligned with you because you’re already where they want to be in their startup journey.

To become an effective mentor for a tech startup founder, you must have extensive knowledge and experience in the field of technology and business. You must be able to provide guidance and support to the founder as they navigate through the early stages of the company.

By identifying their problems and pain points, you’ll know how to mentor startups more effectively. As a tech startup mentor, you have to teach them the crucial business questions to ask and help them figure out the answers based on data.

When experience is backed by hard data, it’s easy for your mentee to understand the big picture and they can make strategic business decisions that put them in a better position to succeed.

3. Co-Mentor

You can be a mentor to your business partner, work colleague, or friend. This special mentoring relationship is built on collaboration and mutual respect. You and your mentee become “co-pilots” in navigating the business processes and tackling issues.

As a colleague mentor, you have certain expertise and experience that complement that of your mentee. So, it becomes a mutually beneficial mentoring approach that helps you hold each other accountable. In that sense, your mentee is also your co-mentor. Having these dynamics, you’ll also learn how to be a mentee.

Being in a thinking partnership, your mentee can gain insight from your knowledge and deep understanding of the issues at hand and they can turn to you for advice and guidance. It doesn’t mean that your knowledge, expertise, and experience are superior to those of your colleagues. You also benefit from the reciprocal nature of the co-mentoring relationship.

How to be a mentor to a business partner

Not many people are aware that even business partners can be co-mentors. This is because partners are perceived as equals. However, the reality is that one partner may be better at one thing while the other may be better at something else. In this situation, the partnership becomes complementary, which opens the door to co-mentorship.

Being a good mentor to your business partner entails being supportive and encouraging but also being honest. If your business partner is struggling with a task or decision, you must be the one to provide the mental clarity. You can break down the problem into smaller, easy-to-solve parts, which you can tackle together.

A successful mentor-business partner relationship is based on trust, mutual respect, and clear communication. It’s not about micromanaging or lording it over the other partner. You must be able to provide constructive feedback and help your business partner stay focused on the goal.

You must also draw from your network for reinforcements. This way, your partner can have access to a wealth of knowledge and resources to help make an informed decision. The dynamics can be flipped where you understand how to be a mentee.

4. Reverse Mentor

It’s often assumed that a mentor is wiser, more experienced, and older than the mentee. This is not always the case. In reverse mentoring, you can take someone under your wing even if you are much younger than the mentee.

It breaks the long-held belief that only a senior leader can mentor a younger person or a junior member of the organization. This makes perfect sense because the average age of successful startup founders and entrepreneurs is 45.

As a reverse mentor, you can pass on new knowledge to your mentee. This mentoring relationship fosters exchange of fresh ideas and perspectives, which closes the generational and skills gap.

How to be a mentor for a senior manager

If you’re younger and have less experience, the task of mentoring a senior member of the management team can be extremely daunting. You have to keep in mind that even though senior managers may have solid experience and a wealth of knowledge, there are still plenty of things they don’t know.

As a reverse mentor, you must first understand the motivations and goals of the senior mentee. Secondly, you must reiterate that mentorship is a way to encourage and fortify the mentee’s role in the organization.

Your role as a younger mentor is to impart knowledge, skills, and resources that the senior mentee does not have. The more senior managers see the benefit, the more they will become committed to the mentorship program.

MentorCruise offers mentorship tools and resources on how to make reverse mentoring work in any organization.

Getting priorities in order

A mentorship will always take time, preparation and care - even if you’re getting stressed and swamped with work. How good you are with a certain piece of tech, whether you have 5 or 10 years of experience does not matter as much as whether you have the resources to put some time into this. Showing up is the most important step!

Being a mentor is incredibly rewarding and powerful, so be sure that you can give it the care that it needs. It’s important to structure your day to accommodate for this, and reject any mentorship opportunities that you can’t accommodate, e.g. due to timezone issues or time requirements.

If you want your mentees to succeed, plan in timeslots in your daily schedule that accomodate for their requests or sessions.

Choosing your mentorship style

Chat-only? Scheduled video calls? Give out your phone number?

How you do mentorship is entirely up to you. Some approaches will fit your lifestyle better than others. If you’re on the road a lot, maybe sit-down video calls aren’t the best. If you’re a slow typer, maybe hop on a call instead.

What’s important is that you know, have, and follow your own style of mentorship. Also important is that you communicate what your style is with your mentee. There’s nothing worse than a mentee to expect to go on regular video calls with you when you don’t really want that.

What mentorship entails is not written down in some kind of handbook. Your mentorship style could be to work in the form of projects and sample challenges. It could be to work on a product or company together. It can be check-in calls once per week to see how studies are going. Each of these methods is valid, as long as they can help your mentee.

Setting a schedule

Especially if you are mentoring globally and online, making sure that timezones and schedules work out is a golden rule.

If you are running into trouble finding times and dates to talk, it can be a good idea to set up a specific schedule, for example, to meet every Wednesday at 1 pm PT for a quick coffee-style video call that takes 15 minutes.

Based on that, you’ll also be able to decide on how many times you want to check in on your mentee. Whatever you do, it’s important to communicate this. If you manage expectations, it’s a lot easier for the mentee to worry about their goals, rather than to worry about you.

How to Be a Good Mentor

Okay, by now you learned the perks of becoming a mentor and how to get started. But, for a passionate and determined individual like you, simply signing up to be a “mentor” is not enough.

It’s about being a good mentor. You want to make a real, positive impact–and you want to know how you can deliver that. Let’s talk about some mentoring tips and strategies to foster greatness:

Listen First & Communicate

Are they looking for support? Guidance? Insight? It can vary between meetings. Being a good mentor entails listening carefully to your mentees and learning their problems, goals, and expectations. Your help should be tailored to what they need and less tied to your own agenda–which can be intrusive to their plan.

Research has shown that poor communication is a leading cause of failed mentoring relationships. It’s much easier to establish a mutually beneficial dynamic if you and your mentee are honest, open, and share similar goals and expectations.

Following that note, MentorCruise makes it easy to establish expectations, so you know what you’re in for from the start. A mentee can state their needs and expectations and submit them. After which the ball is now in your court: approve the application if you can be helpful and perhaps improve their goals through a consultation.

Remember, a successful mentoring relationship shouldn’t include one-sided conversations where you simply instruct–it’s an open, non-judgmental discussion that encourages thought-sharing, identifying weaknesses, and improving through fearless communication.

Give Constructive Criticism

It goes without saying that you don’t want to offend or judge your mentee. But, there’s a difference between that and sugarcoating your feedback to the point where they miss the point. To become a good mentor, you need to deliver constructive criticism.

If your mentee sucks at something, research shows that the most constructive approach is focusing on behaviors that can be improved. Be honest with them, and don’t be afraid of them getting upset. Tell them to toughen up because sugarcoating is a privilege, a kindness undeserved in the real world. If they mess up in action, the consequences are severe. Better they hear it from you–someone who cares about them, than a boss who won’t hesitate to punish incompetence.

An effective way to offer advice is by sharing your experience, like a past mistake in a similar position. End it off with a “Don’t do what I did, and that’s why.” 9.9 times out of 10, your mentee, at the very least, will recognize their wrong path, and that’s where you come in to guide them into amending the error.

All in all, if you want to know how to be a good mentor, you need to know how to give constructive criticism. Here’s a quick list of how to go about it:

  1. State your observation. You saw a weak point. Point it out. You can share a similar personal experience and use some self-deprecating humor while you’re at it–to come off more relatable, humble, and welcoming.

  2. Pinpoint the area for improvement. There’s a thin line between criticism and constructive criticism. Actionable suggestions for betterment are the latter. The ultimate goal of a great mentor is not to highlight a weakness but to highlight an area of improvement–learn the difference.

  3. Keep up an appreciative tone. Maintaining a calm, respectful tone in your voice reminds your mentee that you’re helping them and not hating on their character. Your intentions may be pure, but your mentee will think the worst if you sound harsh and annoyed.

  4. Understand their concerns. Don’t just give your feedback and screw off. Sit and see if the mentee has something to say–and address them. Was there a reason they took that approach? Is there something stopping them from following your advice? Do they… disagree? An effective mentor expects a reply back and sticks with the mentee through the entire journey.

Remember to Be Human & Practice Empathy

A great mentor-mentee relationship goes beyond professional transactions. Sure, you’re there to guide a newbie on their career path, guide their own decisions, and let them tap into your valuable industry experience.

But, if you want to become a better mentor, realize that your support may extend beyond career goals. They may extend to a more personal level. After all, career development and success are only possible if you have a stable base–and that starts at home.

Your mentee could be going through something, and you need to pick up their energy and work to help them through it. You also don’t want to be hard on them because they’re following a different path. A good mentor respects alternate approaches and doesn’t have immediate expectations or judgments.

If you want to know how to be a mentor that’s more empathetic, research shows that you must focus on understanding perspective and mastering situational adaptation.

Perspective-taking: looking at things from the mentee’s shoes and trying to relate to them.

  • Listen carefully
  • Acknowledge and respect that not everyone is on/took the same path as you

Adaptability: your ability to be open, responsive, flexible, and sensitive to your mentees’ wants, needs, and experiences.

  • Appreciate differences
  • Reflect on innate judgments and break any stigmas you may have

Empathic mentors better help mentees cope with their own mistakes and the relationship’s highs and lows and feel more satisfied in their relationships in general.

Treat Your Mentee like a Partner

First Round Review studied 100 mentor-mentee matches. One of the success factors found was that you can’t treat your mentoring relationships like a transaction.

If you’re not careful, things will get one-sided fast. You’ll just do the talking, and your mentee will just do the listening. Treating your mentee more like an equal will make them feel more comfortable asking questions and opening up to you–which is the best way to learn and effectively help them.

Trust them with the process

Of course, it may be tempting to take the wheel because “you know better.” But, what’s most important for being a good mentor is that you nurture an a) leader who can critically think on their feet and make their own decisions (under your guidance) and b) a challenger who isn’t afraid to question authority when they’re curious.

How do you accomplish a) and b)?

Think of yourself as a driving instructor. As the passenger, you let your mentee control the journey. Nevertheless, you remain on hand to guide them or to hit the emergency brake if needed. Adding an element of autonomy, assigning responsibility, and letting your mentee think for themselves will improve their confidence and demonstrate your faith in them.

At the same time, let them know that you’re there for any questions or advice for a great mentorship experience. Tell them that they shouldn’t hesitate in the slightest to ask about an itch. The last thing they need is to feel like you’ll go crazy on them for dropping the ball.

Share on your life & be a positive role model

Additionally, by treating them as partners, you establish the grounds to share your work and personal life. Shedding light on how you tackle day-to-day challenges or big barriers in conversation is a valuable learning experience for your mentee. Furthermore, if you ask for their input, you’ll not only diversify your perspective but stimulate the mentee’s brainstorming skills.

Becoming a good mentor means fostering mutual growth and your mentee’s development with a “teammate” mentality over a teacher-student “I instruct, you listen” vibe. As the mentor, you’re mainly responsible for setting this tone.

How to mentor software developers (example)

For example, let’s say you want to learn how to be a good mentor for software developers. Your mentee may be new and nervous working with a coding god such as yourself. Naturally, they may be a little too reliant on you.

A good way to help them grow is by letting them strategize technical solutions while you critique them, instead of strategizing yourself. Then, near the end of the call, have a rant session about a back-end bug you had to fix and ask how they’d approach it. Later, reveal how you approached it.

Celebrate Achievements

Mentorship conversations tend to revolve around the negative stuff because people often look to a mentor during difficult times. When you celebrate a mentee’s successes, you’re not just balancing the mood of the conversation, but you’re also building an individual’s confidence, reinforcing their conduct, and keeping them motivated.

Great mentors provide interpersonal support like respect and recognition, but also encouragement, emotional support, and opportunities for affiliation, which positively impact the meaningfulness of one’s work and perceptions of themselves.

Mentioning mentees’ success may also satisfy their need for recognition and approval from their mentors. The way you celebrate their achievements is entirely up to you.

For instance, if you are a peer mentor helping onboard a new employee, you may choose to publicly acknowledge their success by telling their team or manager about it. Or, if your relationship is still remote, then you can encourage a success story on MentorCruise’s blog platform and show the community your mentee’s amazing progress with you.

BUT: Celebrate responsibly

However, as a career mentor, make sure that you don’t push success too hard over learning experiences–which is more important.

Although it’s crucial to celebrate accomplishments occasionally for a self-esteem boost, demonstrate to your mentee that it’s also vital to practice humility in positive situations. It’s not wise to let your wins blind you from the bigger picture.

Doing so will prevent your mentee from going down a path of half-earned successes and unnecessary celebrations that unhealthily stroke the ego.

Jump right into it

Now the question: I’m ready to mentor - where can I find mentees and start with this?

A good way to find mentees is through our mentorship program at MentorCruise. Not only do we offer you the tools, coaching, and visibility to succeed as a mentor, we also make sure that your mentees apply through a formal pipeline, rather than just writing to you directly.

We’d be honored if you’d choose to mentor with us applications are open anytime, we’d be happy to have you.

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