How to be an excellent mentor
“A mentor is someone who sees more talent and ability within you, than you see in yourself, and helps bring it out of you.”
— Bob Proctor
I’ve been mentoring engineers for more than a few years and I still remember my first mentoring session how it pan out. In fact, I didn’t even realize I was mentoring someone by that moment. It was more of a casual & spontaneous discussion about a technical topic which turned out to be a little more formal mentoring sessions following up. I kind of liked the conversation I had with my first mentee in that brief stint.
As I started to do more mentoring sessions one thing was pretty clear — it’s definitely not a one way street. I was learning equally as much as mentee could have learnt from me. In this article, I’ll convey my perspective of mentoring and how it can be a great tool in giving back to the community and a treasure for yourselves.
What is mentoring?
From my perspective, mentoring is the act of being a sparring partner for someone to achieve their goals by sharing your experience or thoughts. Someone seeks out a mentor’s support when they’re in a confusion and needing feedback, have some questions about a subject, feeling less confident to achieve their goal or starting with something which you’re already an expert at.
As a mentor, one has to listen and try to understand the situation that the mentee is in and provide guidance and more importantly encouragement, so that the mentee feels boosted up to achieve what he wants to.
Keep yourself approachable
Someone will accept you as a mentor, only if you keep yourself approachable. If you’re someone who is heads down and keeps coding or a devil-may-care personality who is hasty when it comes to conversations, nah! That’s not a sign of a mentor. Giving space and time for mentees to express their need for support will make the situation a lot better and they will be thankful for accepting them as your mentee and for providing your expertise.
Mentoring is not a rocket science; it’s mostly listening to your mentee.
Being a keen observant by listening to the mentee’s goal and not rushing to a conclusion is the first step that you should take as a mentor.
Focus on process rather than outcome
Mentoring is not about the end result or outcome but the process itself. It’s not as rigid and rigorous as coaching or training where there could be some outcome expected and the agenda is more or less fixed. On the other hand, mentoring is more delicate. Change shouldn’t be forced upon them so start the conversations gradually and focus on building trust and rapport in the first place.
Sometimes the end result may not be what you and your mentee expected, but the experience that you both gain over the process is the most important part in mentoring. Execution is completely up to the mentee and you as a mentor guide them throughout the process and stand behind them irrespective of the results. But if you see things not going in a right way, be proactive and raise it with your mentee so that you both tackle it at the earliest.
See through mentee’s eyes
After listening to your mentee’s request, sometimes you might feel like that’s so easy and why someone needs mentoring for it. It’s not about from your perspective but rather try to understand why it’s a concern for your mentees and where they lag. Asking the right questions back to them is an effective technique where the mentee can find answers himself and can move closer to a solution.
If you can’t feel your mentee, you can’t mentor them.
Learn from your mentee
Over the course of mentoring sessions, make sure you take away some learning for yourselves. Every scenario is unique and different from others. As a mentor, it’s a great opportunity to gain some knowledge from a mentee and use that for yourselves or for other mentees. When going into conversations, keep your mind open and be aware that you might not know answers for every question and it’s completely fine.
You’re not out to prove anyone anything; so rather be genuine in helping out others and learn along the way.
Being proactive and quickly acknowledging that you don’t know about something is very crucial as a mentor. If you can’t be a great help to them, it’s better you take them to someone whom you know and who is an expert at it.
Be kind and succinct
Mentoring is a kind act — do it with kindness. Things may not go as expected or sometimes mentees can’t understand what you’re conveying. Help them understand by being succinct with your explanations and be patient for them to reflect on it and come out with their own thought process. Don’t rush the conversations since you’re an expert in the subject already. Be open and kind by doing things in mentee’s way sometimes even though you know your approach will work out.
Show your mentee how to fish. Focus shouldn’t be with the fish itself.
Show your empathy by sharing your hard times that you had when you achieved similar goals in the past and convey that it’s completely normal to go through such hard times.
Anyone can mentor anyone
Let me get this straight — anyone can mentor anyone. There’s no seniority levels pertaining to mentoring. Based on the expertise and maturity, even a junior colleague might mentor a senior on a specific topic. Also the reverse mentoring will create a healthy environment where the mentor gets mentored back from the mentee on how the mentoring session went and how it could have been done better. Not feeling sensitive to mentee’s feedback and acceptance will make you a better mentor down the line. This is a great way to embrace and practice mentoring culture throughout the organization.
Plan the mentoring sessions
Mentoring sessions can be done in a casual way but not in a haywire fashion. Be clear about the objective of the mentoring, expectations, how the mentoring sessions will be carried out and how often. Sometimes mentoring can be done in one session or may be a series of sessions. Planning the timeline ahead and seeing clear progress over the course will keep both the parties motivated to gear up towards the goal.
That’s it for now — I’m actively mentoring about software engineering, career progression, engineering leadership & culture here in MentoringClub and I'm a certified mentor. Feel free to come and say hi: https://www.mentoring-club.com/the-mentors/ananthanarayanan-ramachandran. I would be more than happy to collaborate and help someone out.