How to be a mentor: Making a real difference in someone's life

We've seen a lot of great mentors through our experience helping many companies run mentorship programs. Here are some tips to be a great mentor.

Matthew Reeves

CEO of Together

Published on 

March 24, 2022

Updated on 

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Organizations today are under constant pressure to improve employee productivity and engagement. A study by Gallup found that only 15% of workers worldwide and 30% of US workers are engaged at work. This lack of engagement costs organizations billions of dollars every year in lost productivity.

A PWC poll shows that 65% of employees applied for new jobs in 2021, a move that's become a significant part of The Great Resignation. Aside from health benefits and higher take-home checks, employees want to advance their careers. 57% of employees, according to this report, want to engage in upskilling programs. 

As businesses adopt technological advances to boost productivity and lower operating costs, employees need proper motivation. A mentorship program is an acceptable blueprint for worker motivation. In this article, first-time and existing mentors will learn the best practices for mentorship.

What is a Mentor? 

A mentor is a more experienced or knowledgeable person who guides a less experienced or less knowledgeable person through their career or personal life. It’s viewed that mentors are usually older, but in reality, anyone can be a mentor. They must have a greater level of experience and knowledge and an ability to pass that onto others.

The role of the mentor is to provide guidance, support, and advice to the mentee. The mentor's goal is to help the mentee grow and develop professionally. The mentor also shares their knowledge, skills, and experiences with the mentee.

Critically acclaimed talk show host Oprah Winfrey defined a mentor in an HBR interview as,

"Someone that allows you to see the hope inside yourself." 

In one way or the other, many top executives of today have benefited from mentorships. Some notable mentoring relationships include:

  • Mary Berra, the CEO of General Motors, an automotive giant, once credited her rise to becoming the CEO of GM to her mentors, who helped her push through unfair gender biases.
  • Michael Bloomberg, one-time mayor of New York City, also credited his success to many years of listening to a mentor. 
  • For Bloomberg, it was William R. Salomon. 

For employees and colleagues that you work alongside, you could be their mentor. But is it worth the effort? Do mentors really make a difference in the workplace?

Why is it important to have more mentors in our workplaces? 

In the PWC poll, 33% of executives cited career advancement as a reason for employee resignation. Most workers dream of growing in their respective fields to attract bigger positions and yield perks, like a salary upgrade. 

Mentors provide critical support and encouragement

Mentorship provides employees with the growth they want. It boosts workers' confidence and strengthens the bond between high-level and low-level staff. A Woman Ahead research study reveals that mentoring relationships have inspired 87% of mentors and mentees and helped them grow more confident in their roles. 

Mentors unlock the growth opportunities employees want

Having a mentorship program in the workplace enables employees to build connections, set ambitious goals, and develop a growth mindset.  

The importance of mentorship in today's workplace can’t be downplayed. A CNBC op-ed holds that 4 in 10 staffers have contemplated quitting due to few mentoring opportunities. Meanwhile, that same source found that 9 out of 10 employees say a mentor has greatly improved their productivity and overall enthusiasm for work. 

Mentors enhance existing developmental programs

Mentorship is usually viewed as an informal relationship. It’s an individual’s responsibility to seek out role models and ask them to be their mentor. But many workplaces take on the responsibility of pairing mentors and mentees during workforce processes like onboarding, or learning and development programs. Pairing employees with mentors within existing programs like those mentioned accelerates learning and helps employees feel more a part of the culture.

Workplaces also leverage mentors to:

So mentorship is important. But who can be one?

Who can be a mentor? 

Despite using the instance of a senior employee and a junior employee, there are different types of mentor and mentorship programs such as peer mentorship, reverse mentorship, and group mentorship. If you ever need an idea on how to structure a mentorship program we highlight 10 ways to structure your mentorship program.

Some common types of mentors are: 

  • The Advisor (Using this method allows the mentor to incorporate their experience and skills in guiding a mentee.) 
  • The Coach (Mentors that follow this approach have great listening skills, which let them pinpoint mentees' challenges. When they also discover pleasant traits, they spotlight these in subsequent interactions with mentees.) 
  • The Challenger (Mentees should expect their mentors to harp on developing problem-solving skills. Such mentors often test their students' resilience in tough situations.) 

The above illustrations serve as an eyeopener for employers and workers alike. Employees should be matched with coaches whose personalities and ideals align. A challenger-styled mentor shouldn't work with a coach-oriented mentee. 

An individual needs to possess certain qualities that project them as a perfect choice to become a mentor. Want to know who can be a mentor

Here are five of these qualities: 

  1. Mentors must be active communicators since interactions will be a regular affair. Mentors with great communication skills will provide mentees with the relevant tips for personal and career improvement.  
  2. To be respected as a mentor, you must have achieved a certain level of accomplishments. Being a company executive or appearing on the news aren't the only factors to be considered. Your mentee will monitor your attitude to work and relationships with staff. So, commitment to your tasks and a cheerful temperament are non-negotiable traits. 
  3. The best teachers are life-long students. To know the latest trends in life, prepare for research. Mentees admire mentors possessing a vast amount of knowledge. Mentees also admire mentors who support them with resources to learn more instead of scolding them for not knowing something. 
  4. Feedback is different from a rebuke since it aids your concept knowledge. From a 2021 study, Zippia reports that 85% of employees are better motivated by workplace feedback. Also, 89% of HR said regular feedback and check-ins are key for successful outcomes. To grow in any field, one must begin from the early stages, and mistakes will be made. Offering constructive feedback gives mentees a chance to improve and avoid making the highlighted mistake. 
  5. Respect is an important subject in the workplace. Instead of finding faults, a good mentor focuses on the positives, which boosts the mentee's courage. The purpose of mentorship is to churn out reliable, self-driven workers.

Want to be a great mentor? Do these things

While mentorship is an exciting innovation in the workplace, beginner mentors need certain strategies to build a successful mentoring relationship. They should be willing to modify their approaches pending the mentee's reaction. 

Below are ten actionable methods for first-time mentors to consider. 

1. Set realistic goals 

Remember, you'll be interacting with a mentee for a long period, so ensure that the mentee grasps the essence of your goals. Doing this reduces a conflict of motives. 

The mentee is equally expected to reveal their goals for the mentorship program. Once both parties know their respective expectations, a healthy alliance is founded

2. Offer feedback when necessary

Feedback is critical for growth, so don't hold back. While some prefer a straight-faced reply, it'll help if you ask your mentee whether they'd like a direct or euphemistic reaction. 

3. Lead by example 

Mentees appreciate a mentor whose life is built on the same principles they're aiming to master. Let every decision you make to win over your mentee resemble your teachings. 

4. Preach confidence 

Vince Lombardi opined that "Confidence is contagious. So is lack of confidence." As a mentor, you're expected to explain the importance of being confident, especially in adversity. 

5. Render assistance

At some point, we all need assistance to achieve a goal. If you cannot assist your mentee with a particular task, feel free to outsource the responsibility to a friend. Your mentee will appreciate your kindness and get a better stance on the task. 

6. Acknowledge your mentee's wins 

As constructive feedback is a gem in mentorship schemes, so is the celebration of a win. No matter the size, praise your mentee because it prompts them to do more. 

7. Be a good listener

Speaking and listening skills help build an effective relationship between mentor and mentee. Listen to your mentee and take the time to recognize their thought processes. This portrays you as an excellent teacher. 

8. Promote accountability

When your mentee sets a goal, you must see that they fulfill it. Enlighten them on the joy of a completed goal and why they should not abandon an objective.  

9. Personalize your interactions 

Call them by their first name. This builds loyalty and understanding between both sides. 

10. Organize your meetings 

It pays to have a schedule for meetings with your mentee. This strategy is a terrific investment because it stimulates them to adopt it. 

Handbook Actionable Tips To Become An Effective Mentor 

5 mistakes mentors make and how to avoid them 

Mistakes are a reality for new and seasoned mentors. Ironically, some mentors don't consider these faults as actual mistakes. Sadly, these errors impair mentor and mentee relationships. 

Below are five common mistakes with tips on making them go away. 

Maintaining a distant relationship

When mentors don't personalize interactions with mentees, it creates a gap that'll likely defeat the purpose of the mentorship. 

Remedy: Try to address the mentee on a first-name basis. 

Lack of faith in the mentee 

Your responsibility is to build the mentee in every possible way. Unfortunately, some mentors are largely pessimistic about their mentees' prospects. 

RemedyRemind your mentee about your confidence in them. This fuels their desire to impress you. 

Want to make the mentee resemble you in every way 

Some mentors force mentees to be walking representations of their ideas and views. This is counterproductive in helping mentees find their voice. 

Remedy: Teach without the mindset of wanting to turn a mentee away from their standards.

Taking an unnecessary amount of credit for the mentee's deeds 

It's selfish to insist that all of the mentee's victories are because of your efforts. This makes mentees doubt their abilities. 

Remedy: Sing your mentee's praises when necessary. However, ensure that you don't overdo it. 

Not following up with mentees 

While assigning a duty to your mentee is important, monitoring their efforts towards finalizing the task is what mentors neglect. 

Remedy: Oversee mentees' activities regularly. 

Books and resources to sharpen your mentoring skills 

Introducing mentorship schemes in the office opens the employees to a different learning experience. For mentors, the journey towards developing mentees is long and hectic. We've prepared a list of books and resources to soften the challenge. 

Below are some helpful materials for mentoring:

  1. Athena Rising: How and Why Men Should Mentor Women. Authors: W. Brad Johnson and David Smith 
  2. The Mentors that Matters: Stories of Transformational Teachers, Role Models, and Heroes. Edited by Suzanne Fox 
  3. Mentor Handbook 2021: How to Be a Great Mentor 
  4. The Mentoring Manual. Author: Julie Starr 
  5. Mastering Mentoring and Coaching with Emotional Intelligence. Authors: Patrick Marlevede and Denis Briodoux 

Building a mentorship program? Together Software makes it easy

This article is about how mentors can make a real difference in their mentee’s careers and lives. But for leaders trying to find ways to bring mentorship to their organization, having the right tools is critical. 

That’s why Together exists. Our award-winning mentoring platform does all the heavy lifting when it comes to registering employees, pairing them, and monitoring their progress. 

Templated programs with customizable session agendas get you started quickly. 

Likewise, our pairing algorithm ensures every employee finds the perfect mentor. 

And everything is tracked. Report on session scores, dig into feedback, see goal completion rates, and more. 

Together makes workplace mentoring programs a breeze.

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