Throughout our professional lives, many of us can turn back and find, at some point in our history, that or those special persons that marked a difference in the direction that we, as individuals or as companies, decided to take. They were an inflection point that impacted the place where we are now: mentors.
“Mentorship is the difference between exploring a dark cave without a flashlight and exploring a cave with an experienced guide who carries a torch”
Mentors we can find a lot, good mentors, just a few. But what really defines the good from the bad? There are several aspects, but we can summarize the three most important: the first is the value and quality of their contribution, generally defined by their domain on the subject and their ability to transmit knowledge. The second: their emotional intelligence that allows them to understand and listen, not forcing decisions; they’re just the facilitator and not the protagonist of the story. And the final factor: asking nothing in return, being aware that their level of involvement is not tied to a reward or benefit.
Some of us are mentors that really want to add value to people, companies or projects that we have been invited to collaborate. This is why I recommend the following 10 points to becoming a good mentor:
1. Define your impact level: Before you jump at your role as mentor, you have to understand the level of impact that’s expected from you. For example, if your impact relies on a team or a person, your expected role is coaching; if your impact relies on the development of the project, your role depends on your experience with similar projects; if you’re going to impact certain processes, your focus should be more technical; or even if your impact is on relationships and connections, you should have a more social approach. This is important, because we often bring something different than expected, and instead of providing help, we are being distractive.
2. Define time for mentoring: Your availability is key. If someone is looking for you as his mentor, will surely be for your successful track record, and you surely are a busy person, so the less you have is time; but for those who receive mentoring, time is a critical factor, and every minute you dedicate to mentor them is gold. A good hour of your advices can avoid weeks of work. If you decide to get involved, you need to consider adding to your calendar the time you have available and make your people know what you can offer. This will create a more harmonious relationship in which everyone agrees with your time spent and then, your job will be maximized.
3. Share your experience: Your experience is more than one point of view, it adds much more value to the project. For those seeking assistance, opinions are easy to find, but experiences that can actually help, aren’t so. To being able to provide experience is usually necessary to have a lot of knowledge and a good approach in the practice over the theory. Generally what is expected in terms of knowledg,e is quality instead of quantity.
4. Show interest: Actively listen, question, provoke, challenge; your role is not only to be heard. The more you show interest and empathy with the project, the people or the company, the more your voice gets credibility. People like to feel and believe they are heard; they like to believe that first we are understood and then, mentored.
5. Be honest: You don’t always have to agree; a lot of times you won’t share the same opinion and you’ll have to explain reasonably why not. It helps more an honest “No” than a “Yes” destined to fail. Remember that people reach you for what you can offer, not only to get your approval.
6. Understand the responsibility of your role: Understanding this, without conflicted interests, is the best way to start a good mentoring relationship. Many times, you wanting to help ends up being a headache or a sinuous road that you no longer know how to get out. Set communication rules, times, responsibilities and expectations so at the end, the feeling of contribution is satisfactory.
7. Let be: Don’t try to print your personality, you are a complement, and what you can contribute, combined with what you already have, will help generate growth. You don’t need to be the star, neglecting people and wanting things done as your desire is the wrong choice. Humility plays a very important role in mentoring.
8. Open your Mind: We live in short-period changing times. What once worked may no longer do; what was successful now is failure; and what nobody wanted is now desired. So, it’s best to stay open to new ideas, processes and practices that, combined with your experience, can lead to new solutions to new problems.
9. Create long-lasting relationships: Become a new player of the team, get involved from the beginning, show that you are willing to take risks, and enjoy the benefits. Bet for long-term relationships and not small and short-term interventions.
10.Ask the right questions: You never take the decisions for someone else; you ask the right questions so the leaders can conclude the right answers and make the best decisions that, good or bad, will be made by the Company and not by the mentor.
Being a mentor is not easy, but is one of the most satisfying activities: on one hand you get to help other people, and the other you get recognition of you journey in the project.
But remember: not always the best player on the team is the best coach.