How to be a better mentor?

As I get older, I find myself in a better position to dish advice. But more importantly, the satisfaction comes from watching people grow and develop. I have led teams and it has been an interesting and fruitful journey. Mentoring is tough. I know because I have struggled in the past to get the outcomes from my team that I needed.

Through my very short leadership journey, here are a couple things that worked pretty well.

1. “Care personally, challenge directly”
Ensuring you build a true relationship, based on trust, with your team or with the folks you mentor is the first and most critical step. If they don’t believe that you care about them personally, when you challenge directly or are critical, there is a great chance it won’t be met in a way that helps them develop.

So, how does this apply to mentorship and how do you do this?

Simply put, you have to know more about your mentee than simply the work they do for you. This goes beyond knowing their spouse’s name or the names of their kids. This is truly knowing what makes them tick. What are their future goals and aspirations?

Once you’ve built the foundation, you can get to work as their mentor (or boss), by challenging them directly and continuing to grow and develop your relationship. With your mentee’s understanding that you truly care for them, you can stop sugarcoating the things you used to. You can be direct without being harsh. You can be direct and help them work through whatever issues they are having. This is challenging, but if you’ve built the foundation of caring for them personally, this type of directness goes a long way.

2. Don’t try to solve problems
“Be a multiplier.”

Being a multiplier means giving your team space to learn and grow so they can create amazing things and find the answers or develop the solutions. So, if you’re going to be a multiplier, you can’t be an answer or solution machine…

I know, this may sound counterintuitive. Aren’t mentors supposed to help their mentee in any way possible? This was definitely the approach I used to take — You’ve got a problem, here’s a solution. This is not being a mentor. Being a mentor means helping your mentee solve problems for themselves.

When we solve problems for people (or attempt to), we are making them dependant on us. We’re in essence saying, “Bring me your problems and I will solve them,” rather than teaching them to solve their own problems. This isn’t easy. Most of us want to be helpful, we want to have answers when we are asked questions.

3. Ask questions until you get the real challenge/problem
There are two questions I ask to begin my one-on-ones.

By asking them you draw out the first thing on the mind of your teammate and then ask them to dig deeper. Their initial answer may be a symptom, but continue asking: what’s the real challenge? Why? What else?

The more your inquire about the issue, the more they will break it down and identify the real issue, so they can get to work fixing it. Again – you aren’t solving for them, you are helping guide them to success.

You need to put in effort to make these three ideas work. You also need to understand that mentorship is part of the leadership skill set and the only way your team is going to developing and improve is if you do as well. And the last thing is to keep trying, because mentoring is a skill that gets better the more you use it.

Check out my related post: How can you be more successful in life by answering two questions?

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4 thoughts on “How to be a better mentor?

  1. You have covered some fine point of being a Mentor. Alan Watts has a great presentation on the subject of Mentorship. I, myself, have found that my best mentoring has been performed without being the Mentor. Asking questions is the hardest part of mentoring. This can be time-consuming. Each question should create a question which may reveal an answer. Master that and there is a chance to have Mentored.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Totally agree that mentoring takes time and most of all patience. It’s about allowing people to learn how to fish rather than just fishing for them if you know what I mean.


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