Ensure your mentoring relationship is above average by using these tips to get off to a great start. Building trust, inspiring confidence, and identifying shared values are the building blocks of a great mentoring relationship.
Cheat #1: Build Trust = identifying shared values or experiences
Identify what you have in common. Common experiences or characteristics bind us to one another. I experience immediate rapport with someone when I discover she too studied karate (like me!) or likes cycling (like me) or lived in Arizona (like me!). Finding how the other person is like you will help you to bridge generation gaps too.
If you haven’t already then it is not too late to ask about your mentee’s background or ask questions like:
What do you wish I knew about you?
If I met your best friend in the parking lot later what would she tell me about you?
Cheat #2: Inspire Confidence
My good friend and colleague Brad Johnson, Professor at the U.S. Naval Academy, and David Smith recently wrote a fantastic book Athena Rising: How and Why Men Should Mentor Women for men who mentor women. As a woman, I also found the advice helpful as I think more intentionally about improving my mentorship of women. They wrote:
“Excellent mentors for women exude unrelenting confidence in a mentee’s potential and her capacity to realize her aspirations.”
It is easy to overlook the importance of communicating our belief in our mentee’s abilities and dreams. Women tend to underestimate their ability and their performance. Some folks refer to this phenomenon as the Cinderella Syndrome – when accomplished women feel like imposters. Having experienced this feeling, I am better at recognizing it in myself and in others. Encourage your mentee to be recognized and noticed for her work…and it might take a few gentle reminders as I did so recently with one of my mentees. There is a boundary between being intrusive, pestering, and supportive. However, I find more than one ‘gentle reminder’ is usually needed and appreciated.
Cheat #3: Dream BIG together
A recent Harvard Business Review article claims male mentors aren’t pushing female mentees hard enough. Some people worry women can’t handle it (they will tear up) or that we tend to “protect” women. One of the early mentoring researchers said that mentors help mentees “realize the dream.” Ask your mentee to share her aspirations and dreams. Then listen to those dreams and think about how you can help her develop a plan to achieve them. War stories have a place but listening and thoughtful questions help mentees develop their confidence in their dreams, expand those dreams…and achieve them.
It might that your mentee most needs your help to develop their big dream. There are times when you might need to share your dream for your mentee. I did this recently when I told her that my dream was for her to have greater awareness in the next year about her hopes, dreams, and aspirations and more clarity about her strengths and sense of purpose.
All Good Things Must Come to an End
We tend to spend a lot of time at the start of relationships but neglect paying attention to how we might end them well.
When mentoring occurs naturally, relationships seem to move to their natural end by either drifting slowly apart or maintaining an enduring relationship for a lifetime. However, formal (assigned) mentoring relationships have a clear start and end dates. At least, the relationship ends or changes from what was originally constructed.
Being a great mentor (or mentee) also means you give attention to ending a mentoring relationship well. Mentoring relationships, like other relationships we have, go through stages.