How to be a great first-time mentor [15 tips]

Being a mentor for the first time can be daunting. Here are 15 tips to help you build a successful mentoring relationship.

Ryan Carruthers

December 8, 2021

No one wants to be a mediocre mentor. But if it is your first mentoring opportunity, it may not be clear how to make it a great one. 

Research has shown that mentorships can be life-changing experiences. One survey found that 76 percent of people believe mentoring is important. Yet, only 37 percent of those surveyed had a mentor. 

Many benefits come with mentorships, such as 

  • Happier employees
  • Higher productivity
  • Enhanced employee skillset
  • Lower turnover rate

So what can you do as a mentor to create a life-changing experience for your mentee? Read on. 

What is a mentor?

A mentor is a unique relationship where someone at work takes another person under their wing.  They can be an advisor, a guide, and offer encouragement. The mentor is someone who has experience and insight that can help a mentee with whatever situation they’re in. They will understand the unique challenges that the mentee faces and be able to offer advice and encouragement that leads to success. Depending on the situation, a mentor can help a new hire learn the ropes at the company or they can share their knowledge as part of a succession plan for the organization. 

What kind of mentor is best?

Each mentorship is unique. The experience for participants varies depending on the personality of their mentor or mentee. Each mentor has something great to offer. They don’t all have to be the same for a mentee to benefit from the experience. Here are the eight different types of mentors:

Advisor - this type of mentor offers suggestions on what the mentee should do based on their personal experience or expertise. Their strength is their ability to act as a sounding board.

Protector - some mentors take on the role of protector over their mentee. Their goal is to ensure the mentee does not make a mistake that could be detrimental to their career. The strength of a protector mentor is that they offer a safety net for the mentee. 

Developer - mentors that listen well and are eager to point out red flags for mentees are called developers. This type of mentor empowers a mentee to develop the capability for solving their problems independently. 

Broker - this style of mentoring is done by those with a strong network. The mentor will connect the mentee with learning opportunities by connecting them to experts in different areas.

Challenger - mentors who opt for the challenger style will play the devil’s advocate with their mentee. This encourages mentees to come up with solutions rather than complain about their issues. 

Clarifier - for mentees who are more independent, a clarifier mentor would be a great fit. These mentors act as guides that can provide valuable organizational information for their mentees. 

Sponsor - mentors who aim to open doors for their mentees are considered sponsors. These mentors will put a mentee’s name forward for a promotion or new opportunity. 

Affirmer - these types of mentors are great listeners and provide a safe space for a mentee to discuss challenges. Affirmers are empathetic and understanding, which can boost the self-esteem of their mentees. 

While mentors can have different temperaments, there are some similar qualities that they should share, such as: 

  • Good listening skills
  • Flexibility
  • Respect for diverse perspectives
  • Experienced
  • Knowledgeable
  • Honest
  • Have a strong network
  • Provides constructive feedback
  • Committed to mentoring
  • Life long learner
  • Enthusiasm
  • Positive attitude
  • Emotionally intelligent

What steps should first-time mentors follow?

Being a mentor for the first time can be exciting, but also a little scary. You want to help your mentee succeed, but are not always sure how to mentor someone.  Here are some steps you can take to create a memorable mentoring experience. 

1. Set expectations at the beginning of the engagement

It’s important to lay down some ground rules and expectations at the beginning of the mentorship. At the first meeting, define how often you’ll meet, where you’ll meet, and who will lead the discussion. Having these expectations in place will pave the way for a smooth mentoring experience. 

2. Take a genuine interest in the person

Although mentorship is a professional relationship, taking a genuine interest in your mentee can enhance the experience. Getting to know each other will help you work better together. 

3. Focus on the long and short term goals of the mentee

One of the key aspects of mentoring is to help a mentee reach their goals. So, it’s important to define what those goals are, both short-term and long-term

4. Put the responsibility of growth in the mentee’s hands 

A mentor’s role is to encourage, support, and advise. But, your mentee will need to do the hard work. Have them break down their goals into smaller steps that they take to accomplish them. 

5. Hold them accountable

You can help your mentee develop characteristics that will lead to their success by holding them accountable. They should be working towards their goals and your job is to check in with them to see that they are doing what needs to be done. 

6. Understand how to give feedback to the mentee (discern when to be upfront or more constructive)

Knowing how to constructively provide feedback to your mentee depends largely on understanding them. Some mentees can handle a direct approach while others will need you to soften the blow before they can hear what you have to say. 

7. Focus on the needs of the mentee rather than telling them what you think they need

Based on the goals of the mentee and their strengths and weaknesses, you should be able to discern what they need to succeed. But as you do this, be sure you’re not just focusing on what you think they need. Rather, sincerely consider what will help them reach their goals and attain growth. 

8. Points out their blindspots if you spot them

Helping your mentee recognize their challenges - including their blindspots - is essential to a successful mentoring experience. If you can see something in your mentee that they need to overcome, help them recognize it. 

9. Read between the lines to pull out insight from the mentee

Mentorships will allow you to practice emotional intelligence. You’ll need to listen to what your mentee tells you but also read between the lines to gain more understanding of your mentee and their situation. 

10. Share stories, not instructions

Most growth and development come from gaining understanding and wisdom. Simply telling your mentee what they should do won’t help them grow. And it will create a mentorship that is more like a manager-employee relationship. 

11. Guide your mentee to answer rather than telling them

As a mentor, one of your goals should be to help your mentee develop some independent thinking. Consider yourself more as a teacher rather than a drill sergeant. When they are trying to solve a problem, guide them to the right answer rather than telling them how to go about solving the issue. 

12. Instill confidence 

Empower your mentee by instilling confidence in them. When mentees can grow and learn to solve their issues independently, they’ll gain more confidence in themselves. From a mentee standpoint, this is vital to a successful mentoring experience. 

13. Leverage your network to help your mentee and sponsor them if appropriate

Draw upon your connections to help your mentee grow. If they need some development in an area that you may not have much expertise in, put them in touch with someone from your network that can help. In the same way, if you hear of a new opportunity that your mentee would be right for, put their name forward and advocate for them. 

14. Recognize growth and celebrate successes

As the mentorship evolves and your mentee reaches their goals, celebrate with them. This can be as simple as sending them a message or card to acknowledge what they’ve accomplished and to share with them how proud you are of their success. 

15. Be real with your mentee

Honesty is a key ingredient for a great mentoring experience. Be real with your mentee about any shortcomings you may have to help them. But don’t leave it there. Assist them to find the right person or information. 

Introducing mentorship to your organization 

Mentoring is a powerful employee development and growth tool. It’s one that over 70 percent of Fortune 500 businesses have already implemented. To experience the benefits of mentorship, each employee should be given the opportunity to participate. 

So, what can you do to develop a workplace mentoring program for your organization? You can sell mentoring to your business. It starts with understanding the benefits of mentoring and how a mentoring program can help your organization achieve business goals and objectives. Once you get your leadership on board you can begin introducing a mentoring program.

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