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Becoming a better mentor during uncertain times

January 6, 2021

Even in the best of times, mentors have to overcome challenges that help them to achieve the goal set out for them – to share and transfer knowledge, be a safe and unbiased channel of additional support, and to guide people through their paths toward career progression. Mentors have always been an integral part of future succession. They help the right people get to the right places. But in these uncertain times, their role has become so much more.

Adapting to new working practices is usually something that is done with fair warning and guidance. However in the instance of the COVID-19 pandemic breakout early on in 2020, there was really no time to teach, just do. Remote working or working from home became normality for those fortunate enough to work in a sector where this was viable. Yet, many people found their careers drew to a complete halt with no certainty of continuation. Job security has unfortunately been one of the many economical casualties of the pandemic. It is also where mentors – with the right support – have been able to rise to the challenges.

The rulebook for what is classed as traditional mentoring has been thrown out the window. A new one is being written and added to each day as the pandemic goes on. As the methods change and face-to-face communication is limited, mentors are sharing knowledge amongst each other. It is useful to help them be a better mentor and deal with this crisis in the most positive way going forward. 

View Change as an Opportunity

This point is both as crucial as it is challenging. While the pandemic has left a lot of people feeling overwhelmed and possibly under-supported, such imminent change can instantly turn openings for opportunity into negative thoughts about the present and future. This negativity can breed a lack of enthusiasm and unproductiveness. It can essentially undo years of hard work if left to fester and grow. 

To be a great mentor during uncertain times means to change this viewpoint into a positive one, not only for themselves but for their mentees and their organization. This may be no easy feat. But what makes a great mentor in the first place is someone who is a self-starter, motivated, and can see opportunity in every obstacle, even if the opportunity is just to learn while making mistakes navigating tricky paths.

Encouraging someone else to see opportunity in these changes is what it all comes down to. By discussing the new disruptions with a mentee and how they think it is holding them back, it allows room to see if there is something they are missing. For example, if a particular mentee was on the brink of an exciting presentation that would enable them to show their experience and expertise. They had built up to speaking in a public forum and were looking forward to networking with people that would be useful to know in their career. The sudden closure of offices meant that this couldn’t take place and unfortunately, the presentation was no longer a high priority for the business. 

In this situation, it would be natural for them to feel disappointed and would be especially easy to lose momentum. But an experienced mentor should be encouraging them to see the opportunity as having even more time to work on the presentation with less pressure and to learn a new way of presenting. In addition, the networking aspect would originally have easily landed on the mentee’s lap, having the right people present in the room and taking away the need to personally gather them there. This is a huge area of opportunity in having the mentee personally having to reach out to these people and gain confidence in their new skills. 

Of course, this is just one example but easily shows that the silver linings are there for the taking. To be a better mentor is to encourage and support throughout the new process. 

Be a Calm Voice of Reason

There are many attributes a great mentor possesses that helps move people forward and not get stuck on their same thoughts of worry or doubt over and over again. Being a voice of reason is one of them. This is usually achieved by listening, taking in all of the facts, and deciding on the best course of action. But mentoring a person who has been hit by the wave of job uncertainty can make this task a little more difficult. There will be more variables to consider and disruption to overcome. 

When there is uncertainty around potential career moves, promotions and job security, the person going through the ambiguity can feel alone in their anxiety. They have to find a way to move through it, which is where having a mentor could really help the process. Currently, times are turbulent for most people, and this joint ambiguity is causing more restlessness than normal. Everybody is yet to see the success stories of the pandemic. Guilt can also play a massive part in not wanting to celebrate a win when so many others are struggling to find their place in the new working world. 

Remaining calm is the key attribute here. It is commendable to all mentors who are able to do this while potentially dealing with their own career worries at the same time. A lot of what it comes down to is where a person makes a conscious choice not to worry, which is easier said than done. That is not saying it can’t be done. 

Adapting to the ambiguity and realizing that there are certain things that are out of anyone’s control helps with this. It is the things within a person’s control that should have a focused priority. Making and setting goals, practicing existing skills and learning new ones, as well as maintaining communications with networks of influential people are all a must for retaining control over the situation and remaining calm throughout. As a mentor, the way to adapt better to this is to practice this themselves and encourage the same from their mentees. 

Refocus Strategies

In line with the above points about remaining calm, revisiting and adjusting strategies will assist with staying calm, moving things forward, and regaining that momentum. Sure, the office may operate differently now, departments may have shifted or had to collaborate in order to see through the crisis and new tasks will have appeared on itineraries that may not come with a complete training package as they previously would. But the shift in strategy from the organization’s point of view needs to be followed by its employees for the continuation of growth and success. 

Mentoring may itself be part of the shift in strategy. A lot of companies decide that incorporating a mentoring program into their workplace is beneficial for future succession, to provide an avenue of support and be the ears and eyes executives need to know about the talent they should be looking at. This would be the time to engage employees with this new strategy and give them a new focus going forward. 

But for existing mentors, a change in direction needs to be the focus in order for the program to work. When people seek out mentors, they do so because they want to improve themselves or push themselves further in order to reach their goals. But now the goalposts have moved, the strategy needs to move with them. A mentor can be the guidance someone needs in order to find their new direction and come up with an action plan of how to re-strategize. 

A good example here may be an employee who has had their sights on a role in a different department. They have been training for it, learning what it entails, and have started working with a mentor to improve their skills, build a network, and feel confident going through the application and interview process. But due to a shift in departments, this new role has now been condensed into other employee’s workloads, which means the opening is no longer available. 

For a mentor to excel here, they would want to discuss future goals with their mentee, find out just how important that particular role was, and encourage them to find other avenues that would put all the learning and training toward a new goal. It is so important that they don’t see this as a wasted opportunity and are able to deviate from their original goal path without getting caught up on the negatives of the situation. Goal setting through the SMART goal system would be useful as it documents the plan from start to finish. 

Provide Emotional Support

Mentors are not psychologists and are not expected to have the answers to everything, but one of the amazing qualities a mentor should possess is being a good listener. This year, that skill has probably been put into practice more so than any other year. This is why mentors are so important now more than ever. 

It is easy to get caught up in discussing career development, goals and areas for improvement, but to be a better mentor now would be to not just focus on career talk, but to be supportive of worries, qualms, and even fleeting moments of anxiety that can sometimes be worked out easily just by talking about them. 

People who have mentors are looking for acknowledgement and validation, not just in their quality of work but in themselves and their personal growth. For those facing an uncertain future, it may be difficult to reach out and ask for help, support, or ideas. It is helpful for mentors to reach out to their mentees on a personal level. A friendly chat or a weekly check-in to see how things are going outside of the normally scheduled meetings can go a long way. 

Use Video Conferencing to its Advantage

Video conferences may be completely normal now to a lot of people. Organizations are generally adopting this way of communicating with people to keep up with the social distancing norms of 2020. But for mentoring, this may be a new strategy and one that will initially feel strange to set up as a new concept instead of face-to-face meetings. 

The important thing is that a mentor sees the benefits of continuing the partnership this way so there is still a major aspect of personability, rather than hiding behind phone calls where they may lose that sense of interest and even who the person is on the other end of the line. Putting body language and visible emotion back into the conversation will mean more can be gained with openness and honesty throughout the mentoring relationship. With email and text messaging, words and phrases can be misconstrued or miscommunicated quite easily. Although they are both convenient ways of speaking to people especially when time constraints are in play, the trusty video conferencing features available to most should not be ignored when it comes to scheduled meetings. 

Allow Adjustments to Schedules

Disruption is one way to describe the ongoing crisis. To many companies who are working hard to continue with their businesses, dealing with the disruption is the hardest part while trying to maintain great levels of custom and profits. So, ensuring all of the workforce is dealing well personally with the disruption is imperative to maintain satisfied employees. 

With mentoring, the same applies. To be a better mentor means making adjustments for people whose lives have been disrupted by the pandemic or by new working directives. The issues could be something like childcare or dependent duties, or not being able to work at the same times as people from the department where they have been split up due to distancing measures. Juggling a new work-life balance is tough at the best of times. A mentor that is accommodating of these disruptions will help their mentee feel at ease with no additional pressure. 

This is not to say they should change their scheduled meetings to 1 am if it is only convenient for their mentee, but allowing the time constraints of a typical 9-5 day to fall by the wayside would be a great place to start. 

Above All, Don’t Try to Fix Everything

Where mentors are compassionate, strong-willed, and motivated individuals, their job isn’t to fix everything that is broken. Rather they help others see that there are solutions. By acting as a guide, a great mentor will encourage and enable someone to find out how to fix things themselves. During these uncertain times, we can all count on a great mentor to find positivity in all the negativity and see opportunity in change. It is up to the people who seek out mentors to want to change things for themselves and to act upon it with the support of their mentor.

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