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Develop Your Leadership Through Mentoring: Six Guidelines For Becoming A Mentor

“How do I become a mentor?”

An important question yet not discussed nearly as often as how to find a mentor. Many times we play the role of mentor in an informal way in our day to day interactions in both our personal and professional lives. When it comes to stepping more formally into the role of mentor we may hesitate wondering if we know enough, have the skills or the time to dedicate. Important considerations certainly.

In response to whether you know enough, you absolutely do. Each of us has knowledge and experience others want to learn. And that’s what mentoring is. Helping someone learn. In any area of work, life, recreational activities, athletics, community service – the opportunities are endless.

And it’s not a one-way street. In fact the best mentoring partnerships are two-way learning relationships. The benefits for mentors are as plentiful as they are for mentees. 

Six Guidelines for Becoming a Mentor

1. Reach out and connect with someone you feel you might be able to help. Invite for coffee, phone or video chat.

  • “I’ve worked on a similar project. Would you like to get together and I can share my experience with you?” 
  • “I’ve been through that experience. I’d be happy to get together and chat with you about what I learned.” 

2. After your initial conversation, you can decide whether you’d like to continue the relationship. If yes, be explicit about your role and timeframe. 

  • “Would you like me to be a mentor to you for the next 4 months while you get comfortable in your new position at work?”
  • “I’m happy to meet with you as a mentor for the duration of your project. If it exceeds 6 months, let’s check-in and re-evaluate.”
  • “Would you like to meet every couple of weeks until you get over this hurdle? Let’s plan for 8 weeks to start.”

3. If a single meeting, ask for feedback and consider inviting follow-up. 

  • “What was helpful for you from our conversation today? What ideas/actions are you taking away from our discussion?” 
  • “Please send me an email to let me know how it works out.”
  • You might consider reaching out to check-in even though a ‘one-time’ mentoring interaction. The person may be reluctant to bother you. If you do initiate the check-in be clear in your intentions and setting expectations for further interaction.  

4. Brokering relationships is a valuable role you can play as well. If you don’t have the experience the person needs, offer to connect her to someone in your network. Remember to check with your colleague before providing contact info.

  • “I know someone with experience in your field. Would you like me to connect you with her/him?”
  • Ideally you want to make the introductions via email or even in person if that is a logistical/preferential option.

5. Join a formal mentoring program with a focus that resonates with you. e.g. women’s leadership, entrepreneurship, youth, sports, volunteer etc. Check to see if the parameters and expectations meet your availability and interests.

  • What is the application criteria for mentees? Does the level of experience of the mentee align with your preferences? 
  • What is the matching process for mentees and mentors? Ideally organizers put time and energy into gathering information to make the best possible matches.
  • What support is provided when you first connect with your mentee? Is there a mentoring orientation and are guidelines provided to support you and your mentee? 

6. Consider co-mentoring, a mutual mentoring relationship of a pair of close, collegial friends committed to facilitating each other’s development. It’s very likely that you know someone who has the experience you’re looking for and vice versa.

  • As with any mentoring relationship, have an explicit conversation about what learning and support you’d like from each other, define parameters and be clear about expectations. 

Every mentoring partnership is as unique as the people in the relationship. There’s no one ‘right’ way to conduct mentoring. The configuration, duration and outcomes will vary. It’s up to you and your partner to decide. Before stepping into the role of mentor, it’s worth taking the time to reflect on your preferences. 

General Mentor Considerations

  • Since we tend to gravitate towards people similar to us, consider reaching out to someone very different from you who would benefit from your knowledge and experience. It’s an opportunity for both of you to learn. Acknowledge your differences and build from there in your partnership agreement. Both of you can develop your range of leadership skills. 
  • Define the parameters especially the anticipated ‘end’ date. People can become over reliant and the idea is to develop the mentee’s skills and confidence. Be transparent. Have a conversation up front about partnership agreements to set expectations and create mentoring ease. 
  • Think about logistics. Do you prefer a virtual or in-person partnership? Phone or video? Weekday or weekend? Shorter frequent conversations or longer conversations less often? 
  • Create an inventory of your skills and experiences. What were some of your toughest moments and what did you learn? What contributed to your greatest successes? What skills do you rely on and how did you develop them? Having this inventory will give you an idea of who you would enjoy mentoring. 

Give Back and Grow

Mentoring is an underdeveloped yet critical leadership skill. The ability to provide guidance and help someone learn from an objective perspective with no vested interest in the outcome. Mentors cite the opportunity to give back by sharing what they’ve learned as a major motivator for wanting to be a mentor. 

Mentors have played a significant role in my learning in my professional, personal and athletic endeavours and I’m forever grateful for their input and support. I make a point of paying it forward through mentoring others. Sometimes formal programs, often informally. Always in awe of the amazing people I get to know and support.

Look around. Listen attentively. Find that person who is waiting for you to come along and share your knowledge and experience. You’ll be glad you did. 

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We’ll move into possibility together!

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