How to Be a Great Mentor Without All the Fuss

Did you know that there can be great satisfaction in formally mentoring others? It’s a way of “giving back” and can also be a way to learn some new things yourself. I have had my own share of satisfying as well as frustrating mentor-mentee relationships, and its taught me that the person I am mentoring should be taking responsibility for the logistics of our time together as well as their own growth and learning. A discussion of your mutual roles and responsibilities at the beginning of the relationship will increase the odds that you will enjoy the time in your mentoring role. Some tips to help you start off on the right foot with the person you are mentoring:

First make your role as a mentor explicit

Define your role: Your role(s) as a mentor should be confidante, guide, encourager, advice-giver, and (maybe) introductions to people and opportunities for the mentee. Make sure you describe your role clearly in order to avoid misunderstandings.

Indicate the amount of time you are willing to spend: Starting out slow will protect your time and allow both of you to see if you have a good fit in your relationship; I suggest an hour a month for six months, but this may vary depending on the reasons for the relationship. You can always increase or decrease the frequency and duration of your time together but begin with some explicit time frames in mind.

Discuss your willingness to be available between meetings: Let the mentee know if they can contact you between regularly scheduled meetings, and your preferred method of contact (phone, e-mail, text, etc.).

Describe your boundaries: You may not know yet if you will recommend this person to others for new opportunities. Make that clear. If this is a purely business transaction, make that clear too (i.e., if you won’t be inviting the mentee to your home for dinner to meet the family, for example).

Next, make your expectations for the mentee clear

Assure the mentee’s willingness to learn and grow: The mentee must take responsibility for their own learning and growth; you can’t force it on them. If they don’t, frustration is right around the corner.

Ask the mentee to plan the meetings: Let the mentee take primary responsibility for setting up your meetings. They should also prepare the agenda for the meetings. This saves you time and effort and helps them to be accountable for your time together.

Discuss the importance of their commitment: It is important for them to know that they are responsible for their own actions and career. When they make a promise to follow through on an action that will further their career, they should follow through. This shows they are committed to themselves as well as the relationship.

Decide on the circumstances that would require you to terminate the relationship: You should make it clear that this isn’t a “forever” thing; the end date of your time together should be agreed to (unless you extend it). Make sure you both understand the situations that would cause you to terminate the relationship. For instance, lack of follow through on actions they’ve committed to can make you believe you are wasting your time; that might be one big reason for terminating.

Now enjoy fuss-free mentoring

You can gain a lot of satisfaction mentoring others; it’s wonderful to watch people change and achieve their career goals. You may also personally learn and grow through the relationship. Make sure you start off on the right foot; the mentoring relationship will be fuss-free when you agree to some guidelines at the beginning of your relationships.

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Mary Jo Asmus is the founder and President of Aspire Collaborative Services LLC, an executive coach, writer, internationally recognized thought leader, and a consultant who partners with organizations of all kinds to develop and administer coaching programs. She has “walked in your shoes” as a former leader in a Fortune company.

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