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How can I be a good mentor to employees?

How can I be a good mentor to employees?

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When Odysseus, the Greek warrior, was fighting the Trojan War, he entrusted the care of his son, to his great friend Mentor – advisor and guardian to the royal household.

The word has since come to mean an experienced and trusted advisor.

Mentoring is an art: the art of transferring wisdom. It is the way in which an individual learns from someone older and wiser, who has walked the same path and is experienced in navigating its challenges.

Anyone can be a mentor, as long as they have knowledge to pass on and the skills, the time and the commitment to do. The truly excellent natural mentor is an exceptional and invaluable person.

Marks of a good mentor
The first important consideration in becoming a mentor is that it means the formation of a meaningful relationship rather than the passing on of a function. In other words, it is a long-term commitment.

Of course, it is possible to train to become a ‘good' mentor but only if you already possess vital interpersonal skills that can be further developed. These include:

  • An interest in helping others succeed – even if they may eventually overtake your achievement.
  • Knowledge – being great at your job and knowing what you're talking about.
  • Engagement – having a genuine interest in others, a willingness to form a relationship, and to feel and demonstrate concern.
  • Trustworthiness – the ability to keep things just between you.
  • Approachability – not being intimidating, but enabling and caring.
  • Honesty – namely, the ability to give straight answers.
  • Active listening and questioning abilities – such as picking up cues, reflecting back issues, checking understanding, minimising assumptions, and not interrupting.
  • Empathy – understanding and acknowledging another's experience without feeling the need to add anecdotes of your own.
  • Neutrality – not rushing in with blame but looking for objective solutions to problems or errors.
  • Guiding, not solving – the ability to stand back, give subtle steers but allow others to make their own decisions , mistakes and successes.

Getting the balance right
It is this final attribute which perhaps is most clearly definitive of your ability to be a good mentor. The balance between over-helping and under-helping is a delicate one, which should be instinctively understood rather than classroom taught.

When your protégé comes to you with a problem to which you can clearly see the answer, it's tempting to solve it. But this isn't mentoring. By solving it for them, you would reduce their ability to do so for themselves. P eople learn best in facing down new challenges, and, in so-doing, developing new skills to solve future challenges.

The secrets of successful mentoring

  • It's a partnership – You won't like every protégé. And not every protégé will like you. Try to pick a people with a compatible background, experience and personality. If after two or three meetings, there is no rapport, move on.
  • Define the goals – Avoid suggesting these yourself; help your protégé define their own goals. Your job is to make sure they are measurable and achievable.
  • Set guidelines – Agree between you how often you will meet and how much email and telephone contact will work for you both.
  • Communicate – That means both listening and talking. Establish your protégé's areas of strength and weakness through open questioning and active listening.
  • Share, don't lecture – You're not a boss or an instructor. Your role is to make the experiences of your working life available for your protégé to learn from. Don't think you always have to deliver answers. Sometimes it's about mutual exploration.
  • Chart progress. It's the best way to keep track and show protégés how far they have progressed.

There's no doubt mentoring is a powerful and cost-effective tool. In the right hands, mentoring can improve recruitment and retention rates, make for seamless successions, and boost productivity through increased engagement and job satisfaction.

Do you have what it takes?

Discuss this issue on The Employer Forum.