The six steps to successful mentoring are designed to help both mentees and mentors.
Step One. What is Mentoring?
I think the best place to start is to set out what mentoring is and isn’t, although as I’ll explain later those parameters need to be specifically agreed. The primary role of a mentor is to use the experience and knowledge they have gained to help a mentee work towards their future career ambitions. It is not about helping the mentee achieve day-to-day goals and objects by coaching them in these aspects to improve their performance. This coaching role is best performed by a line manager, a peer or a specialist. A good mentor will be unconnected with the mentees day-to-day work in order to provide objectivity and a focus on the future and their personal development. I would advise that the mentoring relationship avoids personal crises and emotional challenges – this type of work is best handled by a qualified counsellor.
Step Two: The Right Fit.
It is not always easy for someone to find the right mentor for them. Particularly as they are likely to be older and not in the same workplace. If you go to engaging.works/mentors you can search for a mentor or volunteer to be one. After completing a short form on what experience and knowledge you are offering, or looking for, the site will match prospective mentees and mentors. The site also allows you to invite your own mentors or mentees if you already have them.
It may well be the case that one mentor will not fit all your requirements. But however many you have you need to feel that you can have open and honest conversations. In the first instance therefore it’s helpful to spend time getting to know each other rather than leaping straight in. An hour of really listening to each others history to understand how you have been shaped and your view of the world is helpful. We each have a unique view formed by our upbringing, education and experiences. There is no right and wrong, just different factors that have shaped what we think. Therefore understanding these building blocks to our personality, preferences and performance is crucial to be able to give and receive information constructively. Through this process you will discovery if the chemistry of the mentoring relationship is right as well as the practical experience and knowledge which can be shared.
That first conversation, if successful, should lead to a plan of where the mentee wants to get to in the next three years and twenty-four years (see Six Steps to Career Management) and an agreement of where and how the mentor can help, what is in and out of scope. A clear contract on both sides.
Step Three: Setting Objectives.
It is crucial to set objectives, not just for the personal growth of the mentee but also for the efficiency of the meetings that the mentor and the mentee have together. It can be nice to have a catch up chit-chat but you should look to have clear goals of what you hope to achieve by the end of your conversation.
The frequency of meetings and conversations should be such that they promote discussions about long-term ambitions and personal growth. Therefore two or three sessions a year feels about right, but inevitably events often lead to a number of impromptu conversations. Whether the former or the latter the first thing to do is to be clear about what the mentee wants to talk about.
Step Four: Understanding
To understand a mentor needs to be a good listener and questioner. They need to build an accurate picture of what is going on before leaping in and offering advice. The ratio of five questions to one response is a good formula, I’ve always found, for honing your listening skills. And you need to listen closely to the answers rather than formulate in your own mind what you are going to say in response. The questions need to be open, supportive and engaging so that it doesn’t feel as though the mentee is being interrogated, rather that there is enough time to talk without interruption. A good mentor will be patient in letting the background unfold and not show frustration if it takes some time. It is surprising how cathartic just talking to someone about the challenges you face can be and how it can help you marshal in your own thoughts to the steps you might take.
Start with hard facts, what has happened and why the mentee thinks it happened. What data do they have?
Only when the facts are clear can you move to how events have made the mentee feel. What mood have events created? How do they sense others have reacted?
Step Five: Owning Outcomes.
This is the stage when the mentor’s skill and experience come to the fore in helping the mentee work through the possible options and outcomes. I would strongly advise that the mentor does not give the mentee a list of things to go and do. The objective must be for the mentee to learn for themselves and grow. To build self-confidence in their own decision making. So starting this section by saying ‘If I were you, I’d ...’ is not helpful in the majority of occasions!
It is best to begin by asking the mentee what they think the options are. Then using their knowledge and experience the mentor can add to the options or narrow them down by allowing the mentee to think about and understand what the upsides and downsides might be.
Step Six: Action Plan.
If the session has gone well you will have had time to fully explore the issues the mentee wanted to cover at the start. You will have helped the mentee work through all the possible options for dealing with the issue and supported them in their preferred approach.
You now need to specifically ask what the mentee will do. In detail. Who will they speak to, when, where. How will they deal with possible responses. If they can’t agree all the detail there and then you should ask for a short written summary.
At the beginning of your next conversation you should begin with a debrief on what has gone before. What lessons has the mentee learned? What might they do differently?
The ultimate goal has to be that through the support of a mentor a mentee is able to build their confidence and self-reliance by reflecting on and then focusing on improving their competence, qualities and achievements.