Take a moment to reflect on someone that was instrumental in shaping your career. Perhaps it was a senior leader that saw your potential and offered to take you under their wing, or maybe it was your tennis coach that taught you to never give up.

Most successful people can tell a story of a mentor that steered them on the road to success. One that had the ability to deliver tough home truths in a way that created an appetite for change; whilst untapping hidden strengths and reining in unwanted behaviours.

So, what is a mentor?

A mentor is seen as someone who is competent in their chosen field and has the willingness and ability to guide a person through their professional or personal journey. The mentor is a trusted advisor that partners with a person to identify their goals and provide the tools and resources to succeed. They work in partnership to overcome obstacles and collaborate to find the solutions to challenges.

A mentor is someone that typically wants to give back and challenge the internal narratives that unintentionally cripple employees. They are someone that is generous in time and spirit and provide a different vantage point that enables the person to learn from their mistakes. A mentor will reach out their hand to show employees the best rungs of the ladder to grab onto.

7 tips to become a great mentor

Great mentors are partners that bring the gift of self-awareness and new perspectives that encourage growth and a desire to be better. To help you get there check out the following tips:

1. Ensure that you have the time to commit to the role of mentor

It can be extremely flattering to be asked to be a mentor; but the fastest way to ruin your own brand is to say yes without considering the following:

  • Reflect on your willingness to give up your time
  • Work through how and when you will make yourself available
  • Establish the boundaries to accessibility; how do you feel about a 10pm call?
  • How might this additional responsibility impact your ability to deliver in your position?
  • Will this be mutually beneficial?

2. Be prepared to share your journey authentically

The mentee may be motivated by your corner office and senior title, but it is important to talk about your experiences and hardships along your journey.

Sharing the hurdles encountered, mistakes made and lessons learnt builds trust and demonstrates the vulnerability that forms bonds. When a mentee sees a successful person; the blood, sweat, and tears is not always obvious. Sharing that there is no express lane to success is critical to role of a mentor.

3. Set the expectations

Most mentees are grateful for any time investment, but some can take the “call me anytime” offer literally.

For the arrangement to be successful, it needs to be mutually beneficial with both parties understanding what the other needs. Consider aspects such as:

  • How long will the mentor arrangement be in place?
  • When, where and how will you meet? How regular are the catch ups?
  • How will the catch ups be structured? E.g., will there be regular sharing of tools? Will the mentee bring work examples?
  • How will success of the arrangement be measured?
  • How will feedback be shared? What will be the tactic to ensure the mentee is open to receiving constructive feedback and observations?
  • How will the mentor know if they are ‘hitting the mark’?

4. Find the right match

A mentor relationship needs to be carefully chosen as trust, vulnerability and partnership is key. To be successful in the mentor role, you need to dig deep to learn about the mentee’s goals, dreams, aspirations, and fears.

What drives them to do better and what sends them running to the hills? Most mentors will nail the basics, but to unleash true potential; you need to go where no other mentor has been before to ask the tough questions and provide difficult feedback.

For example:

  • “Sam, tell me about a piece of difficult feedback that you have received that you don’t agree with?”
  • “Sam, from your perspective; why do you think you are being overlooked to work on project X?”
  • “Sam, on this occasion I agree with your manager’s feedback. I feel like your lack of willingness to contribute and share ideas is coming across like you are not a team player. Let us talk about some strategies where you can turn that perception around.”

5. Know when it is time to act and time to listen

A rookie mentor mistake is to jump into solution mode and ‘fix’ the employee’s issue. It is the old proverb of ‘give a person a fish and they will eat for a day and teach them to fish, and they will never go hungry.’ It is tempting to provide the answer, but instead consider asking:

  • What are some of your ideas to attack this issue?
  • What have you tried so far and what did it teach you?
  • What do you feel was missing from that approach?
  • What might you have done too much or too little of?

6. Be honest when you don’t know

Driven, smart mentees can sometimes stump even the most capable mentors. Part of the learning journey is to demonstrate that understanding how to find the answer is just as important as knowing it. If you are in a position where you are unsure, consider pausing the conversation to find it. For example:

“Sam, you raise an interesting question and I have not considered it from that unique perspective. What I would like to do is press pause on that question to enable me some time to reflect on the right advice for you. I feel like this important issue warrants some time for me to investigate resources that may be useful. How do you feel about that?”

7. Do your homework

A key element of the mentor role is to seek out tools, resources, and opportunities to help the mentee to grow and develop.

The role of the mentor does not start and end with a coaching session. Reflect on their aspirations and areas of growth and how you can support them. If they have an interest in understanding the role of marketing; who do you know that you can connect them to? What upcoming projects are some of your peers working on that your mentee would benefit from?

Find your ‘why’

Every mentor is motivated by different things. Sometimes, mentors are fuelled by the desire to clear the road for minority groups, such as a female CEO mentoring a woman in the business to give her the tools to smash the glass ceiling. Others see it as a symbol of their own success when they have such strong expertise that mentees are lined up for their time. Whatever your motivation, becoming a mentor is a privilege that pays dividends to both parties.

Further information

For assistance with all your workplace matters, Members of Ai Group can contact us or call our Workplace Advice Line on 1300 55 66 77 for further information. Employers may also wish to access our Optimising Performance section for additional resources and our "10 FAQs on Mentoring in the Workplace".

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Georgina Pacor

Georgina is Senior HR Content Editor – Publications at Ai Group. She is an accomplished Human Resource professional with over 25 years of generalist and leadership experience in a broad range of industries including financial services, tourism, travel, government and agriculture. She has successfully advised and partnered with senior leaders to implement people and performance initiatives that align to business strategy. Georgina is committed to utilising her experience to create resources that educate and engage and is passionate about supporting members to optimise an inclusive workforce culture that drives performance.