Guest Column: The 5 Things No One Tells You About Being a Great Mentor

by Esther Weinberg  |  03.30.2017

Mentoring is both a privilege and a challenge. Embarking on a commitment to share your time, knowledge and experience in the hopes of guiding someone else forward in their professional development is a huge, but rewarding undertaking, and one of the most powerful and dynamic ways to grow your career.

However, when you enter a mentoring relationship, the focus tends to be on offering advice or “showing them the ropes.” Imparting knowledge is certainly key to successful mentoring, but it’s not all about what you bring to the table. Mentoring is a mutual relationship, and in order to give—and get— the most from your experience, there’s a few key secrets people don’t tend to tell you about mentoring, but you need to know:

1) Discovering deeper issues.

Just like any relationship, mentoring is made up of human beings with their own emotional baggage, leading their lives in the best ways they know. As a mentor, you are there to coach, guide, advise and champion. You might encounter reoccurring issues or challenges, which is fairly typical. However, there are times where you notice there is deeper pain issues that go beyond you. They may stem from the past. If you find that your mentee is struggling with such issues it’s best to gently refer them to someone else who can help. As a mentor it is not your role to engage in delving more significantly into these issues.

2) The degree to which you prepare will determine how your meeting will go.

Preparation for your mentoring meeting is critical to ensuring the session goes well for for both the mentor and mentee. At your very first meeting (aka the launch of the relationship), remember to: design the goals of the mentoring relationship; declare any expectations you have (e.g. confidentiality, openness, honesty, feedback, regularity of meeting); determine the purpose of the mentoring; decide what type of learning the mentee is looking for (e.g. how to navigate a tough boss, how to get your voice heard in a competitive environment) ; and deem the meeting structure (e.g. meet in person every four weeks, check-in emails in between).

To ensure you’re both making the most of your time together, before all meetings after the launch, ask the mentee to send you in advance, in writing:

— Accomplishments since your last meeting

— Intended accomplishments that didn’t get completed

— Challenges being faced

— Opportunities available now

— Best ways to utilize the next mentoring meeting

By having the mentee send you these points in writing, you have the opportunity to more fully prepare for your meeting and the mentee has another layer of accountability for tracking their progress. Having them answer these questions on a regular basis is also an excellent way to see whether or not your mentee is facing reoccurring issues and challenges. With you both armed with this information in advance, you will be able to avoid surprises, and prepare additional thoughts or materials to bring to the next meeting, if needed.

3) Inquiry is king.

As a mentor, your conversations with your mentees should always address the three “I’s” of exploration coaching: Inquiry, Investigation and Invitation. 

Inquiry asks open-ended questions to get a sense of the situation your mentee is dealing with; Investigation takes a deeper examination as to why something is actually happening, and Invitation invites your mentee to take an action that supports them in moving forward. While each plays a key service to the others, Inquiry is the most vital skill of any leader or mentor. There is a lot of talk around listening in mentorship, however, if you don’t ask great questions, there is nothing to listen to! Inquiry can be as simple as asking your mentee to explain how their current situation came about, but by asking before offering any feedback, you are inviting your mentee to delve into a greater depth of understanding about themselves. By leading with inquiry, you can then listen, creating the space for them to explore what the real issue is, before aiding with your own investigation and invitation to take action to reach their goals.

4) Silence is powerful.

Silence is a powerful and critical tool in mentoring. For example, after you ask a question, it’s important for you to be completely silent and really let the other person answer. As human beings, we tend to get uncomfortable in the silence and want to fill space. Also, our words tend to get ahead of our thoughts. Silence allows the mentee the space to think and shows them that you will not fill in the gaps for them or tell them what to do.

You will be uncomfortable in the silence, and that’s okay, as long as you don’t decide to fill the space!

5) You will be triggered.

Mentoring is a dynamic learning relationship. As much as you teach, advise and guide, surely you too will learn. Additionally, you might be triggered in several of the conversations. For your own wellbeing, don’t disregard what just happened. Take time to self-reflect and get to the root of what really triggered you. This is a fantastic growth opportunity for you, as well.

Keep in mind, you both are human beings sharing a human experience. Make sure you don’t miss your own learning too.

Best of luck and happy mentoring!

Esther Weinberg is a leadership expert who works with media companies to predict, prepare, and practice the art of change. She creates breakthrough strategies for such companies as Warner Bros., Microsoft, NBCUniversal, Turner, Studio71 Motorola, Disney and BET. Based on her 20-year track record in media industry, she is finishing her book entitled “Leadership Hollywood Style” with her co-author formerly from the Oscars, in which they share how to produce, direct and create star performers.

Feel like you’ve got experience to share? Would personal advice and guidance from an industry veteran be helpful to you? Join PromaxBDA’s Executive Mentorship program to become a mentor or a mentee. Applications being accepted now. Email Gabi Morales for more information

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