Effective Mentoring: More Than a Cup of Coffee

Ever find yourself in the role of a mentor?

Whether it’s by accident or design, many of us frequently do.  Whether you’re in a supervisory role or providing guidance for a peer, chances are you will find yourself  “playing mentor” at some point in your life, either professionally or personally.  Of the many career and personal development tools out there, mentoring is among the most effective.

Why? It’s true that books, workshops, videos, and online resources are in great supply these days, and can teach much of what needs to be learned. But nothing equals the value and insight of a one-on-one relationship built with an experienced individual in one’s field.

However, doing it right isn’t as easy as it looks—it’s more than just sitting down for a cup of coffee and sharing a few amusing anecdotes. This is especially true of peer mentoring situations, in which casual relationships may already exist. Mentoring, and in fact, any kind of coaching, works best when you keep a few key concepts top of mind.

As a mentor, you can be a wonderful, and sometimes career-changing, influence. But rule number one is—it’s not about you.

Effective mentoring starts with the needs of the mentee—what do they want, and need, from the relationship? Where do they want to go? What are their goals and aspirations? And how can they use all of the valuable information you’re willing to share to get there?

Early on you need to get a good feel of your mentee’s strengths, skill set, and opportunities for growth.  This should steer your interaction. They could be in need of confidence, experience, training, or motivation—knowing their key needs from the outset can create an effective and rewarding relationship.

Also let the needs of the mentee drive the environment in which you connect. A more outgoing type can thrive on the energy found in public settings, like a coffee shop or restaurant, but someone who is a little more reticent may communicate much more freely in a private office or small conference room. Make sure they’re comfortable.

During the course of your get-togethers, keep a mental clock running on who’s doing the talking, and strive for a balance. You’re not there to give a one-hour lecture, but you’re also not a sounding board for a session of venting or complaining.  Respond to what they say—listen, and listen HARD!—and give feedback that is appropriate and constructive.

Think of each session as a mini-meeting, and if you don’t want to work from a written agenda, at least have one in your head.  And always end knowing what the next steps should be.

Which brings us to one final question—does it ever end? How do you know when enough is enough?

If you’ve gone into your relationship with some clear goals, it should be easy enough to assess your progress, or even completion. But the best mentoring relationships never truly end. Your meetings may become less frequent, the conversations less advisory.

But you may have formed a different kind of bond, one that will last a good long time. Maybe even a friendship. Either way, it will certainly last longer than a cup of coffee.

Grow Big or Go Home!