As a young lady, having a female mentor was crucial to my educational, intellectual and emotional growth. I listened to and followed her advice, earning my undergraduate and law degrees, studying abroad, traveling the world and becoming a specialist in my field of work. If someone told me I couldn't do it, I evaluated the challenge, determining whether it was a valuable milestone. I valued her wisdom, and learned it was taught from her 5 female and 2 male mentors. I have had the benefit of additional wise mentors throughout my education and career, and I cherish their time with me. As a young student or current professional, the benefits of being a mentor or protégé are limitless.
Inaugurated in January 2002 by the Harvard School of Public Health and endorsed in 2016 by President Barack Obama, National Mentoring Month calls our country’s leaders to lend a guiding hand to mentor prospective leaders.
Mentorship involves acting as a trusted advisor that provides insight, wisdom, and advice to help another succeed personally and professionally. Mentors can be a colleague, coach, relative, or friend, and can lend their wisdom in many ways. If you are considering taking on a mentorship role, or want to discover new ways to help your mentee, here are six steps for developing key mentorship skills.
1. Set goals. Determine your mentee’s goals, aspirations, and needs at the outset of the mentorship. This will help you develop relevant advice appropriate to their unique situation. Are they just entering their chosen field and looking for guidance on how to navigate company culture? Are they seeking to transition into a new role or take on more responsibility? Ask questions about their long-term vision for their future, and decide accordingly how you can best help them.
2. Establish expectations. Work together with your mentee to develop mutual expectations. What do they need from you as a mentor? Establish how often you will communicate with your mentee, and develop a channel of communication that allows you to stay up-to-date on their progress, setbacks, and obstacles. Open dialogue between the two of you will ensure that you are a reliable source of guidance throughout your mentee’s journey.
3. Get personal. Take an interest in your mentee as an individual, and spend time getting to know them personally - learn their personality. What makes them who they are? What are their personality traits, work style, goals, and anxieties? Construct your advice according to them and their needs. Getting to know your mentee on a personal level will also strengthen the trust and understanding in your relationship, building a lifelong bond.
4. Listen closely. Being a mentor is about more than just offering your expertise. Take the time to actively listen to your mentee’s perspective instead of thinking of what you’re going to say next. Although you may feel obligated to give helpful advice right away, sometimes the most powerful thing you can do is listen, ask questions, and give your mentee the opportunity to express themselves openly.
5. Admit mistakes. No one likes dragging up their past errors. However, that professional blunder you made a decade ago could become a modern lesson for your mentee. Being open about your own faults allows others to learn from your experiences and avoid similar mistakes. Your mentee will also appreciate the honesty that it takes to share your past, and grow to trust you more deeply.
6. Celebrate each step. Let your mentee know that they always have somebody in their corner by being there for them every step of the way. Whether they achieve a professional goal, or come to a personal realization about themselves or their career, express your confidence and pride at every opportunity. Sometimes all that is needed is a word of encouragement or an acknowledgement of the hard work. As a mentor, find moments to let your mentee know that you have full faith in their future.
In the words of U. S. American politician John C. Crosby, mentoring is “a brain to pick, an ear to listen, and a push in the right direction.” Mentors can come in many forms, and offer indispensable support during times of change and transition. If you’re called to fill this pivotal role in someone’s life, follow these six tips to ensure that you are providing the guidance and insight they deserve.
Sharon Schweitzer, J.D., is a cross-cultural consultant, an international protocol expert and the founder of Protocol & Etiquette Worldwide. She is accredited in intercultural management, is the resident etiquette expert for CBS Austin’s We Are Austin, regularly quoted by BBC Capital, Investor’s Business Daily, Fortune, The New York Times, and numerous other media. She is the best-selling, international award-winning author of Access to Asia: Your Multicultural Business Guide, named to Kirkus Review’s Best Books of 2015 and recipient of the British Airways International Trade, Investment & Expansion Award at the 2016 Greater Austin Business Awards.