How to Be a Great Mentor
There are many good reasons to be a mentor to a young person who is interested in a business career. If you had a good mentor yourself, this is an excellent way to pay it forward. It’s also a good way to develop some of your own leadership and interpersonal skills. Unfortunately, most requests to mentor aren’t accompanied by a how-to manual, so how can you make sure that you’re giving your mentee the best you have to offer?
Not everyone is going to know exactly what you can do to help them. In fact, asking them what would be most useful from you might be met with assurance along the lines of “whatever you can teach me would be useful.” However, asking your mentee specifically what they are interested in that you could help them learn, understand, or achieve can open up valuable lines of conversation, allowing each of you to set expectations.
Grand gestures aren’t appropriate in all mentor relationships, but if you are working with a particularly promising young person and you have a lot of confidence in them, sometimes, you may want to give them the opportunity for that big break. That could mean introducing them to someone key in the industry who can help them. It could mean something like cosigning on a student loan. While this isn’t a typical role for a mentor and might not be something that you’re comfortable with if you have a strong relationship with the person and believe them to be responsible, cosigning on a loan if there is not another adult who can do it can make the difference in going to college and the necessity of going down a different path.
Listen and Help
One of the hardest things about being a mentor can be guiding the person without telling them what to do. This may mean listening to them and perhaps asking leading questions but doing your best not to impose your own wishes on them. You can make recommendations based on your experience, but ultimately, the choice is up to them.
Work on Constructive Criticism
You might feel as though your mentee is headed toward making a big mistake. There are a few things you should keep in mind. First, no one is going to get it right all the time. That includes you, meaning that it’s possible you aren’t right in this particular situation. However, it can also mean that your mentee might get it wrong this time and that’s okay. If you want to advise them against a particular course of action without coming across as overly critical or bossy, one way to do it is to tell a story about a time you were in a similar situation and what you did about it. Subtlety is often a better way to get your point across and can avoid making the person feel embarrassed or defensive. Stories that show you as fallible as well can also help them better accept constructive criticism.