How to get started as a mentor
05 December 2019 -
Dean Westwood CMgr FCMI and curriculum writer for MAXIMUS Training shares his experience and advice for effective mentoring
Dean Westwood CMgr FCMI
There’s a big difference in the ethos of a mentor and a coach: a coach is someone who shows you what to do and provides you with answers. A mentor is someone who discusses things with you and finds ways of showing you the value in what actions you take. They show you any obstacles and help you to interpret and investigate your own actions, instead of forcing their will upon you.
It’s a privilege to be asked to be a mentor, but you have to consider the old Spider-man adage about power and responsibility. You can’t just teach someone your own lessons and ask them to follow it. You can’t impose your will or actions on them. As a mentor, you do not press your beliefs onto the mentee.
The goal is for mentors to trust their mentee to do the action that’s right for them. Mentees need to find mentors that add value. Coaches are useful for a specific task or problem. Mentors need to be in it for the long haul. You need to be someone who can help mentees grow – challenge them over time, and be someone who talks over their future.
There are different types of mentoring: formal, informal, and passive:
Formal mentoring is for a specific project/task, where you’re paired with someone within your company to show you the way – and often you’re put together by someone else.
Informal mentoring has no specific set time period, could be on a single topic or task and is often arranged by the mentee.
Passive mentoring – the type I have found most useful – is where you go and talk to each other and exchange ideas with one another. Working with your peer group and network is something we do daily without thinking, on social media such as LinkedIn we look at advice that is shared in comments and articles. Often the benefits and power of passive mentoring is overlooked, harnessed it becomes a real force.
There’s a Swedish phrase – LAGOM – that expresses the idea of giving and taking in moderation, that sums this up really well. This is what mentoring is; give and take.
The hardest part of mentoring is probably asking the question: “will you be my mentor?” Mentors should always ask the mentee why they’ve picked them. Ask them why they want a mentor and why they specifically want you as a mentor.
Mentoring promotes self-analysis, self-reflection, and helps you to change your confidence levels. It’s helped me, personally, change how I perceive myself as well as how I think I am perceived by others. Mentoring has taught me to listen. Sometimes we think we know better, but listening to other people’s opinions, especially of people you trust, make you realise you don’t always know best.
If you struggle with communication or time-management, don’t think about becoming a mentor. Equally, don’t overcommit your time – it’s better to commit a small amount and exceed expectations than make their expectations too high and disappoint them.
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