Depending upon the nature of your relationship, now what? What do you do, exactly? What are some of the ways that you can provide assistance? The following are seven different functions you can perform to build the mentoring relationship:
1. Become a confidante. This guideline is really critical. Regardless of what roles you play, you still need to establish a climate of trust in which Mentees feel comfortable sharing private information with you.
How do you become a confidante? Listen when the Mentee has a problem. Identify and verify their feelings. In other words, give feedback on what they’re experiencing. You can encourage and praise them when you see behaviors that are appropriate. You can also create an atmosphere where Mentee can learn from their mistakes and talk about them openly with you, knowing you are not going to sabotage that trust. They can share their failures and their successes, and you can share from your experiences.
Becoming a confidante to someone helps build their self-confidence and offers encouragement and friendship. It inspires them—they know there is someone they can go to. How do you become one of the first people they think of when something happens to them? They just can’t wait to tell you, positive or negative.
2. Offer tailored advice. This is across the board, based on whatever their current goals and plans are. Take some time to discuss what their career and personal goals are. What are the skills they need? Maybe they have some training needs. Maybe they need some assistance to advance to the next step in their careers.
Set high expectations on their performance, and see how you can provide some growth experiences. Help determine what is in the way of them being able to accomplish that next step or level. Could you assist them in removing some obstacles, perceived or real? Where can you step in and break down some of the barriers to performance?
3. Help with navigating the organization. This one is also critical. How do you understand the leadership, the culture, and what the rules are where you work if no one’s going to teach you how to play the game? The “organization” doesn’t have to be the same department: It can be an industry, a particular profession, a client group, or informal networks within the organization.
Introduce your Mentee to your connections throughout the organizations, affiliations, and associations in your life. Help them become part of the inner workings and part of the corporate network. You know how to deal with corporate politics, but this person often doesn’t. Help them understand some of those smaller details that, perhaps, could be missed.
Build power through the use of influence for this person. Assist them in learning the company’s customs. When you help the Mentee navigate like this and share knowledge of how to behave in social and political situations, they quickly understand how to get things done. When you know how an organization works, you can be a lot more efficient and effective, so stand by them, and help them in these critical situations.
4. Assist in networking. Good mentoring also builds connections between the various levels of an organization, helping the Mentored individuals grow into their roles and providing opportunities for further growth while humanizing the Mentors themselves. This contributes to a valuable esprit de corps that improves morale and, at least obliquely, productivity. Part of this strategy involves the Mentor exploring the Mentee's frustrations and worries, and suggesting ways to overcome them without necessarily fixing them directly. This is especially crucial in a supervisory coaching position, where the whole point is to maximize the employee's potential and, again, their productivity.
This requires effective communication in both directions. The Mentor should make it clear that candid feedback is not only encouraged but required. In particular, the Mentee must be willing to ask questions, especially when something they need to know is unclear, and must always be self-aware, receptive, resilient, and willing to grow. The mentoring relationship is, and must be, a collaborative one.
5. Become a source of knowledge, training, and wisdom. You’re sharing from your experience, getting the Mentee to step back and consider alternative views and different options. We tend to be the middle of our own universe, and everything and everyone revolves around us. This shows that person that, “Hey, there’s a much bigger world out there and different things that you need to consider.”
Because you are staying current in your field, you can increase the technical competence of another. You can share critical knowledge. You can help the Mentee understand how change occurs and provide appropriate information when needed.
When you offer wise counsel, challenge them, and give them different ideas, the Mentee can develop a set of best practices for how to approach a given problem. You’ve assisted them in understanding other people and different viewpoints by encouraging the exploration of options.
Teach by example, and act as their sounding board. The Mentee will really benefit by having you to help them work through different ideas, recommendations, pros and cons, and alternatives. You can even say, “If you were me, what would you do?” “Here’s what I would do.” “Have you considered this?” “Have you thought of this angle?” “Perhaps here’s an additional aspect to incorporate.” Pushing back as they wrestle with problems can expand their world view, their thinking, and how they approach problems.
6. Encourage them to seek their own answers. Instead of telling the Mentee precisely how to do something, the productive Mentor asks, "How do you think you should handle this?" The results may be surprising, and they're always worth exploring— not just because they stretch the Mentee's abilities and get them to thinking on their own, but also because they help inculcate the concept of personal accountability. Will some Mentees fail to rise to the challenge? Of course, but even such results are productive, since they can illustrate shortcomings in the Mentee's training and abilities.
Help the Mentee identify strengths and weaknesses. While I'm not a big fan of wasting too much time on your weaknesses (it tends to be more productive to hone your strengths), certain minimal levels of performance are expected in any position. Constructive mentoring is one way that an employee learns what they need to improve upon, and how they need to go about doing so.
7. Motivate them to stretch and grow. Of course, you can’t make them do anything, but you can provide an environment where they are self-motivated to take the necessary risks and initiative and to become an independent learner. Challenge the Mentee to examine any unproductive strategies or behaviors. Basically, you’re strengthening their values. You’re encouraging their character growth and helping them develop moral standards.
As the Mentor, you must confront negative intentions, poor attitudes, and bad behaviors. You must help the Mentee shift his or her mental context. You have to encourage professional behavior, and the only way you can do this is by triggering self-awareness in the Mentee by giving criticism of performance if it’s necessary.
Don’t hesitate to give feedback that feels like criticism, because, in a way, that disciplinary function is necessary when you see your Mentee going down the wrong path.