Mentoring Skills: Non-negotiable competencies you need

It's worse to do mentorship poorly than not at all. Mentors need certain skills to help their mentees grow. Here are the 10 non-negotiable mentoring skills you need

Ryan Carruthers

March 24, 2022

When mentors are assigned to mentees in the workplace, all that matters is their expertise – right?

Not so fast. There's a new concept all managers should be aware of – a recently studied phenomenon – called 'marginal mentoring', in which the mentor does a half-hearted job in order to check the mentee off of their to-do list. Naturally, it can have devastating results on performance.

This happens more often than you'd like to believe, and research demonstrates that lacklustre low-effort mentorship is actually worse than having none in place at all. 

For that exact reason, it's important to clarify your skills, competencies, and availability as a mentor before agreeing to take someone on as a mentee. There are certain non-negotiables that allow both the mentor and mentee to get the most out of the experience, and that’s what we’ll be talking about below.

Mentors play a critical role in the workplace 

The fact that 'marginal mentors' exist in the modern workplace is no reason to avoid mentorship altogether. In an age where the sharing and passing along of knowledge is essential to the success of any business or organization, quality mentorship is key.

But what, specifically, is the role that a mentor plays in the workplace?

A mentor is a guide, teacher and encourager. They are someone who has been in your shoes before and can help you navigate your way through difficult challenges, decisions and changes. They offer impartial advice, constructive feedback and support – all with the goal of helping you reach your full potential as an individual contributor and leader.

And, according to research, the benefits of having a mentor are undeniable:

These are just some of the many compelling mentorship statistics. With the amount of research that has been conducted into this field, there should be no doubt left in anyone’s mind as to the impact a mentor can have. 

How do you benefit from being a mentor?

It's not just the mentees who stand to come out ahead when good mentoring practices are in place. Mentors too can reap a variety of rewards, from developing new skills and growing their professional networks, to simply feeling good about helping others.

So, what are the main benefits of mentoring

Validate your skills

No matter how long you've been in your field of work, Imposter Syndrome can linger around every corner, and self-doubt doesn't discriminate. As a mentor, you can quickly dispel any doubts about your skills and experience. 

Experienced mentors are often sought out by less-experienced mentees for their advice and support, which can be a great way to boost your confidence and reaffirm your expertise.

Gain a reputation as a reliable expert

Mentoring can also help you build a reputation as a reliable expert in your field. When you're seen as someone who is generous with their time and knowledge, people will start to seek you out for advice and guidance. This can open up new opportunities for you, both professionally and personally.

Develop your powers in communication

As a mentor, you'll often find yourself having to explain complex concepts in simple terms, and then listen attentively to feedback and questions from your mentee. This can be a great way to improve your own communication skills – and it might just come in handy in other areas of your life too.

See things through fresh eyes

Another perk of mentoring someone else is that they will often have a totally unique perspective on the world. As a mentor, you'll often find yourself learning new things from your mentee – and this can be a really rewarding experience. It can also help to keep you young at heart and open-minded to new ideas.

Get out of your comfort zone

If you're the type of person who likes to stick to what you know, mentoring can be a great way to push yourself out of your comfort zone. By working with someone who is new to the industry or field that you're in, you'll be exposed to new challenges and ways of thinking. This can help to keep you sharp and open to new opportunities.

Foster a sense of community

One of the best things about mentoring is that it can help to build a sense of an inclusive community amongst professionals. When you're part of a strong network of mentors and mentees, you'll have access to a wealth of knowledge and support. This can be really helpful when you're looking for advice or a sounding board for your ideas.

Examples of mentoring skills you need

As you can see, the benefits are impressive for both mentors and mentees – so what's the catch? We're glad you asked. In order to actually see these statistics emulated within your own workplace, it's important that your mentors possess a certain set of skills.

These skills are what we consider to be non-negotiables. Mentors can function without them, but their guidance is unlikely to be as effective. Let's take a closer look.

1. Active listening

In 'Skills for Successful Mentoring' by Dr. Linda Phillips-Jones, this is the first and most important skill mentors should be looking to develop. Active listening means giving your undivided attention to the person in front of you, making sure to not only hear them but also understand what they're saying.

This is a skill that can be difficult to master, but it's absolutely crucial when it comes to mentoring. If you're not actively listening, you're not going to be able to offer your mentee the guidance they need.

2. Trust building

Research would suggest – and logic would more than agree – that to have a successful mentoring relationship, there must be a foundation of trust. This trust is what allows for both parties to be open and honest with one another, without fear of judgement or repercussion.

It's not something that can be built overnight, as it takes time and patience. But once it's established, the sky's the limit.

3. Authentic relationships

The Emergence International organization proposes that successful mentors must be able to build authentic relationships with their mentees. What does this mean?

Quite simply, it's about creating a connection that is based on mutual respect and understanding. This can't be faked – it has to be authentic, or it will eventually crumble.

Digging deeper into this concept, there are a couple of key skills needed in order to foster an authentic relationship with your mentee: trustworthiness, which we've covered, and transparency.

4. Transparency

Being transparent with your mentee means sharing your own experiences and struggles as honestly as you can. Doing this allows them to see you as a real person, rather than just some all-knowing figurehead. And once that connection has been made, it's difficult to break.

5. Giving feedback

Perhaps one of the more obvious skills that mentors need is the ability to give feedback effectively. This means being able to deliver critiques in a way that is helpful, not harmful.

It also means having a deep understanding of what makes feedback effective. For example, did you know that it's best to give feedback soon after an event has occurred? Or that you should avoid using absolutes such as "always" and "never"?

Here's an example of how to give feedback effectively:

"I noticed that you didn't speak up during the meeting. Next time, try raising your hand or saying something when you have something to contribute."

This type of feedback is specific, actionable, and timely. It also avoids coming across as critical or judgmental. Model your feedback on these guidelines, and you’ll be all set.

6. Cultural awareness

The nature of a mentor-mentee relationship is such that people of different walks of life are brought together. This can be a great opportunity to learn from one another, but it can also prove difficult if mentors and mentees do not recognize and respect the cultural differences between them.

Mentors must be aware of their own cultural lenses, and how these may distort their perceptions of their mentees. They must also be willing to learn about the cultures of their mentees and adapt their communication style and advice accordingly.

This includes understanding how different cultures view authority, what is considered polite or impolite conversation, and even how space is used in different social contexts. By being culturally aware, mentors can help to create a safe and comfortable environment for mentees to share their experiences and learn from one another.

7. Aligning goals and expectations

Mentors should almost treat their mentorship as a project; not in the sense that their mentee is a task to be completed, but in terms of setting realistic goals and expectations for the relationship.

Mentors need to take care in aligning the goals of their mentees with their own abilities and aspirations. If these factors are not considered, it can create frustration on behalf of both parties – the mentee, who may feel they are not being challenged enough; and the mentor, who may feel that their time is being wasted.

To do this, mentors must have the patience to listen to their mentees and understand their goals. They must also be able to articulate the expectations they have for their mentee, as well as what they are willing to provide in terms of assistance.

Mentors can help their mentees set better goals by asking them questions such as: 

  • What are your short- and long-term career goals?
  • What do you hope to gain from this mentorship?
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?
  • Do you have any specific questions or areas of confusion that you would like help with? 

If the mentor is able to answer these questions, they will be better equipped to help their mentee set realistic goals that they can work towards.

8. Conflict management

A mentorship pairing could be the most compatible and harmonious in the world, but there will inevitably be times when conflict arises. Whether it's a disagreement over the direction of a project or a clash in personalities, these moments can test the strength of any relationship.

That's why it's essential for mentors to have strong conflict management skills. They need to be able to identify and deal with conflict in a constructive way, before it has the chance to cause any lasting damage.

9. Facilitating reflective thinking

Part of the mentorship process is about helping mentees to reflect on their own work, and identify areas for improvement. This type of reflective thinking can be difficult to do without guidance, which is where mentors come in.

Mentors need to be able to facilitate reflection in a way that is both meaningful and insightful for their mentees. Mentors need to ask the right questions and provide feedback that leads to real self-awareness and growth.

Reflective questions mentors should learn to ask their mentees:

  • How do you feel your current development compares to where you see yourself in the future?
  • What challenges have you faced in your work, and how did you address them?
  • In what ways do you feel you've grown as a result of this experience?
  • What would you like to achieve in the next stage of your development?

These are just a few examples – there are countless others that can be tailored to each individual mentee.

10. Self-reflection and improvement

Finally, mentors cannot hope to effectively guide their mentees if they do not reflect on their own development and work to improve themselves. It would be like trying to teach someone how to swim while you're still struggling to stay afloat yourself.

Mentors need to be constantly learning and growing in order to provide the best possible guidance for their mentees. They should be reading articles, attending workshops, and engaging with other professionals in their field. 

This constant self-reflection will help them to stay up-to-date with the latest trends and developments, and ensure that they are always providing the best possible advice.

Bring mentoring to your organization with Together

So, there you have it – ten of the non-negotiable mentoring skills that you and your team must have in order to bring mentoring successfully to your organization. But what about the process of building a mentoring program? How do you ensure that it is effective and meets the needs of both mentors and mentees? 

That’s where our platform Together comes in. 

Together provides the structure, resources and support you need to make mentoring work for your team. With Together, you can ensure that your mentor-mentee pairings are effective, that mentors have the resources they need to be successful, and that mentees are getting the support they need to reach their goals.

Our mentoring software does all the heavy lifting so you don’t have to. Here’s what we help with:

Registration and matching

With our powerful algorithm-assisted matching process, we take the guesswork out of pairing mentors and mentees. We’ll help you find the right people to match with each other based on interests, skills and goals. 

Development and guidance

You're never left to fend for yourself when mentoring with Together. We provide you with all the resources and support you need to be a successful mentor, from progress tracking to goal setting and everything in between. 

Programs and content

With Together, you can choose between multiple program types: 1-on-1, group mentoring, reverse, flash, and networking. We've got templates already prepared for you, plus a wealth of learning content and resources to get started. 

Not to mention, our software integrates with a whole host of other tools to make your mentoring program even more successful. We work with Ultipro, Success Factors, BambooHR, and many more. 

Ready to take your mentorship up a notch? Starting a free trial with us is easy, and we’d be delighted to help set you on the path to success.

Wrap-up

Mentoring is an arrangement that can work incredibly well for everyone involved – but only if the mentor has the right skills. Any of the resources we've linked in this article contain excellent information to get you started on being an effective mentor. We hope this has given you some food for thought on what you can do to improve your mentoring skills.

With Together, fruitful mentoring relationships are only a few clicks away. Check out how we make it easy for organizations to improve employee connections.

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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.