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How to effectively mentor in a couple of hours every month

Leverage async communications and magnify the value your mentee gets out of the relationship

You'll be hard-pressed to find anyone who is off-the-charts successful and got there without the support of a mentor. Likewise, mentoring is a fundamental tool for up-and-coming and established leaders; an opportunity to flex their influencing muscle, learn by proxy, and build a network they can tap into. 

Desire is rarely the obstacle that stands in the way of someone wanting to mentor others. Usually, the problem is two-fold:

  • They don't know how to find or identify mentees that they want to invest in/work with,
  • They (worry they will) struggle to make the time to be an effective mentor

On the first problem, which deserves a post of its own, MentorCruise is a great place to find new mentees (but don't overlook more junior work colleagues). Let us instead focus on the latter: how to effectively mentor in a couple of hours every month?

There are three core prongs I suggest you follow in order to become an effective mentor and deliver outstanding value while fitting in with your schedule.

1. Clarity is the name of the game

This principle doesn't just apply to mentoring, but to most areas of life. Over 2,000 years ago, the stoic philosopher Seneca already told us that:

"If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favourable."  Seneca

You need to be clear and understand what the end goal is if you want to stand a chance of getting there (or, as a friend once told me "Waze won't take you anywhere before you tell it where to take you").

There are three layers to clarity which we need to uncover here, though.

          a. What do you want to get out of mentoring (in general and with a particular mentee)?

          b. What is your mentee's aspiration? 

          c. What are the parameters of your relationship with your mentee?

Image by Myriams-Fotos from Pixabay

 Unless and until you have those three layers of clarity properly defined, time, energy, and resources will be wasted. 

If you understand what's in it for you, you will be able to frame the relationship and weight the value of this against the competing priorities on your time. If you (and your mentee) understand their aspirations, you are setting everyone up for success; understanding what the destination for them is, is often the very first step of any of my mentoring or coaching relationships.

However, if we look at effectiveness from an input (a.k.a. time commitment) point of view, the third is the crucial one. We have a saying in Brazil that fits this perfectly. it roughly translates to "what is agreed upon [beforehand], never turns out to be expensive".

Be clear with expectations of each other. What are you committing, and what are you expecting from them? If you tell them beforehand that they'll only get to speak to you in 2 30-mins calls a month, they can't get frustrated you are slow to respond to emails. If you don't set that expectation, can you blame them if they feel you are being distant? 

Set the rules of engagement when you get started. Make sure you are comfortable with what you are willing to put in, and that the mentee agrees this commitment is sufficient to meet their needs. 

When there is an agreement, it is hard for anyone to feel short-changed.

2. Leverage Async

During the mentoring relationship, take advantage of technology and put it to serve your purpose, so you can achieve more with less.

For example, not everything needs to be a meeting. Make use of emails and messaging apps (e.g. WhatsApp), or go a level further, and truly eliminate the time consumed by meetings by using voice notes or videos.

Let's say I am supporting a mentee with their CV. If I give them real-time feedback, we could be spending anywhere between 30 and 60 minutes in a meeting. However, if I do a pre-recorded video of me commenting on the CV and how they could improve it, that number drastically drops. The longest video I have ever made was 13 minutes, and it covered both CV and a rant on cover letters. Add the time to upload the video on a drive and share it with the mentee, we're talking 15-18 minutes tops. 

Here's another example of async collaboration. A very powerful benefit of mentoring or coaching is the built-in accountability that comes with it. As a matter of course, your mentee will commit to taking action in between two interactions with you (if they don't, there's a red flag there, if I ever saw one).

Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash

Adopt a project management tool, such as Trello, Monday, or Asana (I am very partial to the latter). Each mentoring relationship is essentially a project, one that focuses on helping your mentee get to their goal (which you will have identified and articulated because you too think Seneca was onto something). In that project, you'll include a few entries (called 'task' in Asana lingo) that cover that clarity, rules of engagement, and any relevant resource. You can then agree on commitments and activities with your mentee, and then can use that tool to make comments (for themselves and for you) and complete tasks as they achieve the goals. 

With this in place, the conversations you do have with your mentees can be focused on moving forward, on unblocking situations, on the actual exchange on thorny subjects or big goals, not withering at you on what they have done. This approach also allows you to embed more structure into the relationship in general, and the sessions in particular while making accountability explicit. Just don't forget to include this when setting up expectations for the relationship.

3. Teach independence

Finally, focus on teaching independence. What do I mean by that? (and no, I'm not going to indulge in that fishing quote.)

Work on making your mentorship redundant. Foster in your mentee a certain level of self-sufficiency. If you are able to help them absorb and internalise some of the processes, you create a scenario where they can get value out of your relationship without your time and availability as a bottleneck. 

For example, whenever I support a mentee in interview practice, I will never feedback to them on how they answered questions. Or rather, I will never be the first to analyse it. I will always take a 3-second pause and ask "How do you feel you did?" and only after their answer will I comment on what they just said, as well as the performance itself. By doing that, I am encouraging them to become more self-aware and self-sufficient, meaning that they can drastically improve at interviewing without practice with me being their only tool in their toolbelts.

Ask yourself: how do you add value to your mentee, and what aspects of that value could be taught instead of just delivered?

Mentoring can be done in just a couple of hours a month, you just need the right system for it

You are likely feeling you don't have enough time to help people, but see mentoring as a powerful way of taking your own career forward in some way (why? refer back to 1.). 

Mentoring someone doesn't have to be time-consuming. Define how much time you are willing to dedicate to mentoring and build everything around it.

As we covered here, all it takes is to: 

  • Set expectations on how much support your mentee can get,
  • Leverage technology and processes, and
  • Teach your mentee to become more self-sufficient

Do all of the above, and the value that will be generated from your mentoring will grow drastically while keeping your own time commitment relatively low. After all, isn't that what efficiency is all about? 

Featrued Image credit: Image by Chen from Pixabay

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