Mentorship

How to mentor someone at work

Mentoring in the workplace is crucial for good employee development, but being a good mentor isn't always straightforward.

Nick Sarev

July 4, 2022

Mentoring isn’t easy at work. Especially as remote work becomes more prevalent, recessions loom, and engagement plummets. But it’s not all doom and gloom. Companies that invest in mentorship see it as a key lever to increase performance. Our State of Mentorship and Coaching report shows that 72% of HR professionals say mentorship leads to improved organizational performance. 

So how can you become a great mentor?

In this article, we'll cover the basics of what mentorship is, why it’s important, and how to go about successfully mentoring someone in the workplace.

What's the hardest part about mentoring?

Just as every mentorship experience is different, every mentor and mentee will have a unique experience of what was challenging and what felt easy in the relationship. 

We will emphasize, though, the importance of setting realistic expectations. Poorly managed expectations are often what pairs find to be their unravelling. 

Here are a few reasons why:

  • If mentees expect too much from their mentors, they'll likely feel disappointed, or even resentful, when the mentor is unable to fulfill all of their needs.
  • If mentors expect too much from their mentees, they may find themselves feeling overwhelmed and stressed out by having to do all of the work.
  • If both parties expect great results but don't have enough time to invest in the relationship, it is likely to end in failure.

The simple way around this is to communicate. From the get-go, be open and honest with your mentee about what you can and cannot do for them. Are you willing to be contacted at all hours? Are you available for in-person meetings, or will you only be able to communicate via email or phone?

Be clear about what you expect from your mentee as well. What are their goals? What do they need help with? And how much time are they willing and able to invest in the relationship?

There's more to mentorship than expectations, of course – but this first tip will give you a cracking head start. 

Great mentors aren't unicorns: hallmark qualities of good mentors

A common misconception about being a great mentor is that you have to be a 'natural-born leader', or some kind of mentoring extraordinaire. Not so. You can both embrace your natural talents and learn new skills; anyone can become a great mentor.

In reality, excellent mentors are interacting with us every day. Who's the person you trust to help you out at work? Who is the friendly face you seek out for advice? Chances are, you've already seen some of the qualities in your momentary mentors.

Here are some of the traits we commonly find exhibited by excellent mentors:

  • A passion for helping others succeed. You share in your mentee's wins and are there to comfort them in their defeats.
  • The ability to give honest and candid feedback. Rather than sugarcoating feedback, you offer constructive criticism that leads to growth.
  • Great at communicating. You keep your mentee in the loop, providing them with clear goals and objectives, as well as transparent expectations.
  • Aware of your mentee's value. In every interaction, you treat it as a valuable and mutually beneficial opportunity.
  • Can ask great questions. Finally, you know how to ask the right questions in order to help both yourself and your mentee reflect and learn.

You'll notice that each of these traits can be learned; they aren't innate qualities that you either have or don't have. You can start to develop your mentoring skills at any moment.

Not all mentors are the same: different types of mentors

Successful mentors tend to share similar characteristics, as shown above – but this isn't to say that all mentors are cut from the same cloth. There are a variety of different types of mentors, each with their own strengths and weaknesses.

  • The Advisor mentor is typically older and more experienced, though that's not a rule. They tend to use their experience to help solve problems for the mentee.
  • The Protector mentor excels at creating a safe and supportive environment for the mentee, which is especially useful for those in a transitional phase of work.
  • The Coach mentor is an excellent listener. They focus on pointing out challenges in the road and encouraging the mentee to draw upon their strengths. 
  • The Connection Broker is just as they sound. Upon finding out the interests and passions of the mentee, they introduce them to people and resources that can help the mentee grow.
  • The Challenger mentor uses tough love to teach their mentee strong problem-solving skills.
  • The Clarifier mentor acts more as a companion than a teacher or coach, best suited to mentees that already possess a lot of self-awareness.
  • The Sponsor mentor uses their position and network to advocate for and open up opportunities for the mentee.
  • The Affirmer mentor almost takes on a counselling role, providing support, encouragement, and a listening ear.

Remember that you don't have to stick to just one type! You can be a combination of different types, or change your role as needed.

How do you successfully mentor someone?

Fortunately for us, there's been plenty of research conducted to find out the best practices for mentoring. We'll run through 15 of the essentials below – and for a more comprehensive understanding, we've got an entire library of whitepapers and blogs at your disposal.

Tip 1: Ask lots of questions, both for your mentor's benefit and your own. Open-ended questions help your mentee think beyond their current perspective and give you a better understanding of their background.

Tip 2: Be compassionate. If you're coming from a place of more experience and knowledge, it's easy to forget what it was like when you were just starting out. Remember to be supportive and give them the time they need to learn.

Tip 3: Don't do all the talking. Not only is this frustrating for your mentee, but it also robs them of the opportunity to learn.

Tip 4: Help your mentee find their voice. One of the biggest benefits of mentoring is that it helps individuals find their voice and develop a sense of ownership over their work.

Tip 5: Set goals early to direct your mentorship. This will help ensure that both you and your mentee are on the same page and avoid any miscommunication.

Tip 6: Help them find their passion. We all know that work is more enjoyable when we're doing something we care about. Guide your mentee to discovering what their passions are and how they can apply them to their work.

Tip 7: Teach problem-solving skills. In order to be successful, your mentee will need to know how to solve problems. This includes teaching them how to ask the right questions, gather information, and come up with creative solutions.

Tip 8: Don't withhold encouragement. Tough love should be used sparingly; instead, give credit where it's due and build up your mentee's confidence.

Tip 9: Use your network. You won't be their mentor forever, so get them set up with new connections and resources that they can use to continue their growth.

Tip 10: Keep an open mind. Just as your mentee will be growing and changing, you too should be flexible and willing to adapt your mentoring style to fit their needs.

Tip 11: Balance support with challenge. Remember that a little bit of healthy challenge will help your mentee learn and grow. But don't push them too hard or they'll become discouraged.

Tip 12: Model the behaviour you want to see. This is especially important when it comes to teaching your mentee about professionalism and work ethic.

Tip 13: As for feedback as much as you offer it. Your mentee needs feedback, yes – but so do you. Make sure to take the time to reflect on your mentorship and ask yourself if there's anything you could be doing better.

Tip 14: Encourage creativity. Innovation comes from creative thinking, so create space for your mentee to think outside the box and experiment.

Tip 15: Celebrate their successes. Acknowledge your mentee's accomplishments, no matter how small they may seem. This will help boost their morale and encourage them to keep pushing forward.

And a couple of extra things to note as you embark on your journey to becoming a great mentor:

Remember that it's okay to make mistakes. As with anything else in life, learning how to mentor someone takes time and practice. Just because you're 'the mentor' doesn't mean you have to be error-free or the best at what you do.

Lastly, be patient. This is a big one! Every relationship takes patience to grow and develop, and the relationship between mentor and mentee is no different. The more patient you are, the more fruitful your mentorship will be.

Ready to be a great mentor?

The final tip we'll send you off with today is this: start your mentorship journey now. Regardless of whether you've been paired with a mentee or not, start thinking about how you can prepare. What tips can you put into practice? What resources do you need? Preparation is key.

Not finished learning yet? Great! Read here for even more tips on how to mentor someone at work. Being a great mentor doesn't happen overnight, but with these tips, you're on your way to becoming one of the best. 

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Want incredible results from your mentorship program? Then download our comprehensive list of best practices.

We draw these best practices from the first-hand experience of program managers like you and our own expertise. This white paper is a comprehensive guide that will be your roadmap to building a world-class mentoring program.