I’ve been a mentor in both formal and informal settings. I’ve mentored people in business and people in personal settings. I find it a rich and rewarding way of encouraging mutual learning and appreciating the value of people at all stages of life. I enjoy networking with other mentors as well and learning about their journey as a mentor.
I’ve had a number of mentors myself in my working career and personal life. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I wouldn’t be where I am today without them. However I find that there is a lot of misunderstanding of what mentors are and are not as well as how mentoring is designed to work.
First, it’s true that anyone at any age can be a mentor. This is because mentors are not intended to be seen as founts of wisdom, waiting to fill the head of mentees with a never ending stream of knowledge. Guru’s dispense wisdom, not mentors.
Primarily a mentor is a skilled facilitator who has a certain amount of knowledge in a certain area. So the core skills of a mentor centre around NOT BEING THE CENTRE OF ATTENTION.
A lot of people don’t understand this. They see mentoring as taking the hand of someone and guiding them along the path they think is best, giving mentees knowledge, information and advice. But the role of a good mentor is more subtle than that.
A good mentor spends a lot of time finding out what their mentee wants. What are their goals? What do they want? What do they need? If mentees don’t know how to set goals, a mentor can give some advice or may point the mentee in the direction of discovering how to do this themselves. At the heart of it, mentors are people who are helping others become more skilled in specific areas of life.
Give a man a fish, he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish, he eats for a lifetime. We are here to teach people to fish.
There are a lot of do’s and don’ts to mentoring. There are a lot of do’s and don’ts to being a mentee. I believe some of the most important things to remember are these:
- The mentoring relationship takes time on both sides. Respect that with each other.
- Mentoring means asking a lot of questions so that one can understand the mentee’s perspective, needs and desires. Be comfortable with that.
- It doesn’t mean giving a lot of answers but rather helping a mentee find answers for themselves, thereby growing and practicing this skill.
- It doesn’t mean close friendship. In fact, most professional mentorships discourage too close a relationship. Mentors are meant to retain their objectivity.
- Mentors are not there to solve life problems. They are there to help with focused, objective oriented needs centred on a certain area of life. They aren’t life counselors or psychologists.
- If you find strong personality conflicts, politely disengage but don’t get discouraged. It just means you haven’t found the right partner to explore this with.
- Mentees are not the only ones who learn and grow from the relationship. This is one of the great things mentors get out of it.
- Growth means change. Change can be challenging for both mentors and mentees. Learn to embrace it.
- If you really want to get the most out of it, mentee or mentor, don’t stay inside your comfort zone. Use the opportunity to push outside normal boundaries.
- Most importantly, keep things interesting. Focus on your passion. Stay engaged. And have fun!