How to Become a Great Mentor

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mentorship, two professionals working together

Why You Should Become a Mentor

If you’ve ever been interested in mentoring others, you probably wonder what makes a great mentor. It’s more than being knowledgeable in your field. Indeed, you need to provide advice that will uplift and benefit your mentee. Sometimes what’s best isn’t obvious – otherwise, we wouldn’t need quality mentors. Thus, you need strong critical thinking skills, knowledge of the job market or education system, and research abilities.

Mentorship isn’t for everyone. It’s a lot of work. However, it’s extremely rewarding. Imagine helping someone shape their future for success. You get to see your advice and effort pay off by getting people through or out of tough and demanding situations. Truly, without the help of a mentor, many wouldn’t be in the position they are today.

In addition to helping someone succeed in their career or life, mentors also benefit from these relationships. Mentorships help both parties build skills. For example, a mentor hones their leadership and communication abilities while the mentee benefits from their experience and wisdom. Additionally, you’ll likely learn new information about your field when trying to help someone find the best options and paths.

Finally, being a mentor simply looks great on your resume. You show your employer or prospective company that you not only can but want to help others succeed. This quality is great for leadership positions.

What is a Mentor?

So, what exactly does a mentor do? The process can vary from person to person. However, they mainly provide advice, support, and resources to people in a new job or situation. You’ll help individuals achieve their goals and build new skills along the way.

How long you work together depends on the mentee’s needs and the program you’re a part of (if any). Majorly, mentorships last between six and eighteen months.

You can find roles as a youth, career, or life mentor. Youth mentorship programs will set a good example, help with school and planning, and provide social support. Programs have multiple age group programs. Indeed, you may work with children as young as six or as old as seventeen. Some programs focus on youth facing adversity. Regardless, you’ll prepare them for the future emotionally, academically, and mentally.

When you think of mentors, you probably think of career mentorship programs. Indeed, some professions require you to build this relationship to succeed in the field. These experts instill vital knowledge, develop their mentee’s network, and prepare them for the job ahead.

On the other hand, life mentors may be a friend, family member, or colleague. Life mentors are very similar to life coaches. But these individuals often do not work in an official program. Rather, they have a close relationship or desire to see someone succeed. Their advice may regard education, big life steps such as moving, or personal issues.

two professionals working across from each other

Top 10 Characteristics of a Great Mentor

Regardless of your path, every great mentor should share some of the same characteristics. The below skills and attributes benefit anyone looking to work in a mentorship program. Keep reading to learn the top ten traits of every great mentor.

1. Good Communicator

Communication is key in any mentorship program. You must be clear with your advice and maintain the proper tone. Indeed, being a good communicator is more than just using the right words. In professional settings, you must be consistent and appropriate with your language and teachings. Having a friendly or casual relationship with your mentee is not a problem. But there is a difference between casual and inappropriate.

Your mentee will often look up to you. Thus, if you use inappropriate language or act unprofessionally, they may mimic your actions outside your conversations. This behavior is commonly seen with younger mentees, and inexperienced professionals may behave similarly.

Consider that you will often be the first professional to help these individuals in their careers. You are the expert and model of success. As a result, they’ll want to act like you to be like you. Your teachings go beyond what you say to your mentee. Make sure you’re setting the right example. Otherwise, you may leave them with the wrong impression of how to act in the office.

2. Sets and Maintains Boundaries

Similarly, you and your mentee need to set expectations for one another. You should decide how involved you want to be, the general goals of your relationship, and how you want to communicate. This process should occur at the very start of the mentorship. You may create an agreement or contract in professional settings to ensure these rules are on paper.

Of course, there may be periods where you both agree to go above and beyond the agreement. Say, for example, your mentee experienced a heavy setback or tragedy. But you will generally maintain the same boundaries day to day.

This agreement protects both mentee and mentor from harmful or inappropriate communication. Indeed, just because you’ve agreed to help someone with their life or career does not mean they get access to you 24/7. Similarly, your mentee may want limited intervention or assistance. Imagine how stressful it would be to have someone over your shoulder providing input for every decision you make.

Ultimately, setting those expectations through a defined agreement is a great first step. It is then up to the mentor to maintain those boundaries. A great mentor knows when to step up and when to let their mentee make their own moves.

3. Goal Setting Pro

Goal setting is vital in the mentorship process. As a mentor, you must help your mentees figure out what they want from the relationship and on their own. Precisely, what are their goals in this profession?

Overall, good quality goal setting consists of one or two larger goals and smaller aspirations to meet along the way. Both are important for success. Small goals allow people to see that what they’re doing works. If you only set long-term goals, you may get burned out by the lack of measurable success.

Furthermore, you should help your mentee set SMART goals. SMART is an acronym that stands for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. Basically, by following those standards, you create realistic and attainable aspirations. Your mentee needs to avoid setting lofty and unobtainable plans for themselves. With your experience and knowledge, you can teach them what makes sense in your industry and what may not work out.

Once you set those goals with your mentee, you’ll give them any tools and encouragement they need to achieve them. Then, it’s up to them to find success.

Notably, you cannot achieve your mentee’s goals for them. This relationship is about building skills, so they come out on the other side with the ability to be independent and autonomous. While you may want to “throw them a bone” for their effort, your mentee needs to build themself up. Providing too much help or doing things for them only hurts their progress.

woman with a mug that says "like a boss"

4. Celebration & Accountability

Once you’ve reached a deadline for a goal, it’s time to measure your mentee’s progress. Did they succeed, or have they fallen behind? Either way, it’s time to meet and discuss the next steps.

If your mentee achieves their goal, it’s time to celebrate. This part of the process is vital for morale and moving forward. Indeed, if you’re always pushing forward with no time for reflection and celebration, you’ll probably see some signs of burnout. Consider rewarding your mentee with lunch or some words of acknowledgment. Additionally, encourage them to treat themselves for success. They’ve put in a lot of hard work; there’s no reason they shouldn’t reward themselves.

So, what happens if your mentee doesn’t achieve their goals on time? It’s important to reflect and acknowledge what they’ve accomplished so far. Even if they didn’t achieve that goal, what did they do right? Make sure you’re providing your mentee with support and encouragement. Only hearing negative things isn’t productive.

After establishing what they’re doing right, look at what went wrong. Was the goal too unrealistic, or were there unexpected setbacks? Or were they not holding up part of their plan? Discuss how they can move forward and help establish new goals.

5. A Quality Mentor Provides Quality Feedback

In situations where you know your mentee, you may find it difficult to give honest feedback. It can be hard to tell someone what they need to improve on when goals aren’t met or if someone isn’t trying. However, you don’t want to coddle them. It can be harmful to their growth and experience.

Be realistic with your mentee. Let them know if they don’t do what they need to do, they won’t get their desired outcome.

Similarly, provide thorough feedback about what they’re doing right. Saying “you’re doing great” isn’t useful. Let them know their organizational, communication, or planning skills are top-notch. Explain why what they’re doing is good. For example, if you’re mentoring a project manager, tell them precisely what makes their management style effective. Through this feedback, they’ll know what to continue doing and what they can change or experiment with.

6. Knowledge, Wisdom, & Skill From Experience

You don’t need to be the CEO to mentor someone. But having prior experience and success in your field helps you be more effective. Regardless of your position, you bring valuable knowledge to the table. Peer mentorship works when two individuals have different backgrounds or have complementary skillsets. What matters is what sort of help your mentee is looking for.

Ensure you clearly communicate what type of mentoring you can offer. This information should be available up-front. You will hurt yourself and your mentee if you’re finding things out as you go or guessing the right answers.

Thus, be realistic with what you can offer. Thoroughly evaluate your skills, background, and experience. Are you ready to become a mentor? There’s no shame in realizing you must focus on yourself or hone your abilities first. As we said before, mentorships are a lot of work. You may not be ready to take on a professional gig, but you could try youth or family mentoring first.

7. Teaching or Coaching Skills

One issue many aspiring mentors run into is that they’ve got the job skills but not the teaching skills. There’s a reason educators undergo so many years of training – it can be difficult to get people to listen.

Of course, mentors improve their coaching skills through their work. As you engage with your mentee, you should feel more comfortable and confident. However, if you feel unsure about your abilities, consider taking a course or finding self-help material. Websites like Udemy and YouTube offer many videos and resources on improving your skills.

If you’re looking for professional-level training, we recommend taking a course at an accredited school. Communications, coaching, and other public speaking programs can help you improve your confidence and persuasion skills.

youth mentor and his mentee

8. Critical Thinking Skills

Critical thinking skills are vital when helping people make big steps in their career or life. You must know how to analyze a situation and identify paths to success. Having a relevant background is only the first step to being a great mentor. What you did in the past will not work for every situation or person. Thus, you need to be able to think outside of the box.

To succeed, you should be well-informed about current practices and options in the field you’re mentoring in. For example, let’s look at a situation you may run into as a youth mentor.

Consider you’re helping a teenager figure out their educational goals. They want to go to college but don’t want to leave home for personal reasons. You may see it as a big step to independence and growing up. However, you must consider why a traditional school isn’t the best for everyone.

Maybe they come from a low-income neighborhood, and your mentee works to help their family stay afloat. Or perhaps they cannot afford to stay on campus. Alternatively, staying home may be more convenient due to medical conditions or disabilities. While getting out of the house may have been a big step into adulthood for you, that won’t be true across the board. You should look into commuting options, online schools, and alternative programs to help your mentee.

9. Networking Abilities

As we’ve mentioned, you’ll need to find resources to best help your mentee. A strong network will not only give you access to these upfront, but you’ll also be able to teach this vital skill.

For most professionals and entrepreneurs, a network allows you to find job opportunities, resources, and contacts for projects. It also provides a guaranteed audience for marketing and content creation campaigns. More than that, it will connect your mentee to the people they need in order to grow as a professional and find amazing opportunities.

Additionally, if you’re mentoring someone outside of the office, you’ll probably need to utilize your network to find job preparation resources, positions, and training.

10. Encouraging & Supportive

Finally, any good mentor must know how to encourage and support their mentee. A large part of this process is acting as a cheerleader and listening ear. Pay attention to your mentee’s worries and needs. They may be nervous, scared, or overwhelmed by a position or situation. Mentors are there to get them through it all.

Notably, some relationships will be more about information or connections. But, often, the process involves overcoming internal barriers and past struggles. If you’re working with youth, you may find that your mentee doesn’t know how to handle big emotions.

Additionally, your job won’t just revolve around finding work resources. Some mentees need mental health support as well. It’s not your job to provide these services, but you can help by finding local clinics, therapists, and services to get them what they need. Indeed, youth programs may have a counselor on board that you can reach out to or work with.

Final Thoughts on Being a Great Mentor

Mentoring is a valuable and rewarding experience for both mentors and mentees. However, the job takes a lot of effort, patience, and skill to be effective. As a mentor, you should take steps to prepare for the workload. Ultimately, you and your mentee can benefit greatly from this relationship.

To become a mentor, ask around at your job, check out local programs, and keep in touch with family and friends.