7 Vital Skills Experienced Mentors Have Perfected – And How to Learn Them Yourself
by Brent Roy
Becoming a mentor can be both fulfilling and a way to uplevel your career.
Shortly after I hired (we’ll call her) Susan, to our communications team, she let me know right away that she wanted to become a people manager. Susan’s enthusiasm and potential were evident.
She had the skills, experience and education, along with the self-awareness and professionalism needed to excel. At the time though, the small team couldn’t support another manager.
While looking for opportunities for Susan, a public relations student–let’s call her Emily, reached out to me. She sought a summer internship with us.
Before hiring Emily, I worked with Susan to structure a working relationship that would benefit all. As director, I would continue to lead the team but Susan would oversee Emily’s day-to-day tasks.
Beyond that, neither Susan nor I were sure how to define her role. Would it be coaching or mentoring? Since neither of us had sussed out the nuances of the two skills, we had to search the definitions.
What Is A Mentor?
Mentoring: The Definition
A mentor is someone who shares their knowledge, skills and experience, to help another to develop and grow. Mentoring often occurs over a longer period of time and, similar to teaching, is instructive.
Its purpose is for the mentor to guide, teach and demonstrate specific skills. A mentor typically would be a few years further on in the career and have hands-on knowledge of the skills needed.
On the other hand, A coach is someone who provides guidance to a client on clarifying their goals and helps them reach their full potential. Coaching is less direct and instructive. Through the coach’s use of asking powerful questions, coaching is more inquiring. Coaches and clients work together in mutually-arranged sessions, often for 20 minutes to an hour at a time.
What Skills Does A Mentor Need?
Relevant Knowledge and Expertise
Unlike a coach, a mentor needs knowledge and experience in the field of expertise they are to impart to the mentee. A mentor has “been there, done that” but is still highly engaged and enthusiastic about the subject matter. It is most effective when the mentor’s knowledge and experience are still fresh.
Ability to teach, focused on mentee’s growth
In a career setting, mentoring goes much deeper and requires more commitment than orienting the mentee to their role. A mentor must be ready to make the investment into the mentee’s growth. They should be prepared to make the mentee a priority until they and the mentor are comfortable with the mentee’s burgeoning skills and independence.
A good mentor is neither a cheerleader nor a bossy taskmaster. Their goal is to encourage the mentee to push through the challenges and demonstrate their belief in the mentee’s ability to succeed.
Ability to Provide Constructive Feedback and Advice
Helping them push through the challenges will involve providing constructive feedback and advice. The mentor shows respect to the mentee by waiting for the appropriate time and location for some quick feedback.
Then, the mentor could share with the mentee the growth area along with a specific example of what they observed.
The mentor would then explain the impact the behaviour is having, then pause for a reaction.When it’s clear the mentee understands, the mentor would suggest steps the mentee could take to change the behaviour.
Good at Follow-up and Follow-Through
Mentors must exemplify the behaviour they want to see in the mentee. Responding to mentee’s requests in a timely fashion is important. Good mentors will schedule followup opportunities and check the progress of the mentee’s development.
A good mentor is authentic and honest. They don’t make promises they can’t keep. They are dependable. If a mentor sets meetings with the mentee every Thursday at 2, the mentee is certain these will occur, and on time.
While mentors need to be closely attuned to the mentee’s development, this does not give permission to hover and monitor every task. Rather than micromanage, a good mentor will give the mentee room to make plans and allow them to fail in areas where risks are lower.
Good Listening Skills
The best leaders are great listeners. Active listening skills are imperative for mentors. They make the listener feel heard and appreciated. They build a culture of trust. To encourage growth, mentees need to know they can ask their mentors anything
Even before a thorough review of the skills of a mentor, I instinctively knew Susan possessed them already. But what if you’d like to mentor someone but don’t feel you have what it takes to be a mentor?
The good news is that you can learn all of these skills.
How To Learn Mentorship Skills
It’s a given that you already have the skills and past experience you want to impart to the mentor. The rest is more about what’s really in your heart. If you can answer yes to these two questions, you may be ready to start mentoring.
Do you really care enough about the subject area?
If you don’t, the mentee will know it and they will not receive the full benefit of your mentorship. For both of you, mentoring will be an experience to endure rather than enjoy. If you do, your passion and enthusiasm will shine through, resulting in a much more positive experience and outcome.
Do you genuinely care about helping others to develop and grow?
This is key. Again, going through the motions is tough to hide. Your mentee will sense how genuine your concerns are about their development.
The rest are intentional practices that you can develop over time with practice.
Are You Ready To Become a Mentor?
If, like Susan, you’re thinking about becoming a mentor, congratulations on reaching such an important milesone! You may have reflected on your own career success and the people who helped you get to where you are today. You are mature and self-aware and realize it’s time to give back. This is called the generativity stage of Erik Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development. This stage comes with a desire to invest in others, with the byproduct of leaving a lasting legacy for yourself.
Portrait of a Successful Mentorship
Susan, Emily and I were all neophytes to the mentoring concept not so many summers ago. Because we were all enthusiastic to learn and participate in growth and development, the experience was a resounding success.
Susan handled her mentoring role with the poise and professionalism I had anticipated. The experience led her to take more training in leadership. A short time later, she became a people manager and is now a director.
Emily developed her skills and contributed to the team in a way that we could easily see her becoming a permanent part of the team. After graduation, she became an entrepreneur and started her own very successful business.
And I learned the difference between mentoring and coaching. For me, it was the summer that ignited a new passion. I learned that a career in coaching could satisfy my own yearning for generativity. I enlisted in a coach training program and five years later, coaching became my full time vocation. Imagine what mentoring could do for you!
I’m Brent Roy, PCC, CPLC, CMC, a certified career, executive and personal development coach and certified mentor coach. I can help you increase your confidence to prepare you for promotion or a new career. For more ways I can help, reach out to me.
An edited version of this article was originally published June 18, 2022 on YourTango as “7 Ways The Best Mentors Share Their Experience & Help Others Grow Alongside Them”