Let me say right up front that I don’t think every person can be a good mentor. Yes you might be successful, have had a wonderful career and a long-term happy marriage. But does that mean you are capable of being an effective mentor. Not necessarily!
In my experience many successful people lack self awareness. They are happy speaking about themselves, their businesses and their plans for the future. They may even ask a passing question of you, such as, so what do you do? But often this is simply a cue for them to tell you more about themselves.
A mentor first and foremost needs to be interested in helping others. He or she needs to be curious and to be what I call a “searcher.” Mentoring is often a two way process where both mentor and mentee learn from the interaction. In today’s fast changing world I believe we all need to be open to input from others. This may take the form of getting advice from an older person but it can just as easily involve a younger person helping someone from an earlier generation to understand technology or hardware.
So can we learn to be a mentor? What I’d say is that if you have the natural attributes to be a mentor you can certainly hone your skills and become a more effective mentor.
We have established that to be a good mentor you need to be interested in others, but what are the other attributes or skills that may require your attention.
I have detailed in an earlier post the need to be fully present when mentoring. In addition you need to do the following things really well:
- Listening. As Stephen Covey said “seek first to understand”. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking you know what a mentee is thinking and feeling before you have explored these matters in detail. Use progressively deeper layers of questioning not only to help you understand but to make sure the mentee understands his or her own thinking.
- Closing off the temptation to be Mr Fixit. Many of us have been around a long time, we’ve seen a lot and we’ve spent a lifetime solving problems for our employees, our children and even our partners! As a mentor our job is to give appropriate advice, at the right time and in a form that best suits the immediate needs of our mentee.
- Pick your mentees well. If you are a good mentor you will receive many requests for help. This can be motivating and a boost to your personal ego, but if you’re not careful you can get spread too thin and end up delivering less than optimum value to you mentees.