So you have been asked – or told – to be a mentor. Pat yourself on the back. It is an honor to serve as a mentor. Now, you need to understand what mentoring is and is not. Mentoring is an invitation to provide developmental insights to someone younger than yourself, often but not always. Mentorships require a commitment of time as well as investment in others. As such, it is essential to understand your role.
A new book, The Ultimate Guide to Great Mentorship, by Scott Jeffrey Miller, a long-time executive with Franklin Covey company and now an independent entrepreneur, is a good starting point. As Miller writes in the prologue, this book is for mentors and focuses on responsibilities and roles – 13. [Disclosure: Miller is co-owner of the Gray + Miller talent agency, including a speaker’s bureau where I am listed.]
Multiple roles of mentorship
The roles of a mentor range from validation to challenging to navigating with many types in between. The good thing is that one or more roles can be employed during a mentorship or even a mentoring call.
“Number one is the revealer and number 13 is the closer. Everything else in between can happen in any style, go anywhere, start everywhere,” Miller told me in an interview for LinkedIn Live. The mentor serves as one who can help the mentee uncover their true selves. Asking the right questions is a good starting point. “What is it that the mentee your mentee is trying to accomplish? What are they trying to get done? Do they want to become a podiatrist? Do they want to go to law school? Do they want to become a vice president? Do they want to become a cupcake maker? What’s their plan? Your job is to help them uncover and discern your job is to uncover so that they can discover.”
Building on self-awareness
Choosing your mentorship role depends on your style and how you approach others. “It’s super important for the mentor to understand what it’s like to be mentored by them, to know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of feedback and instruction,” says Miller.
Fundamental to good mentorship is setting boundaries. The mentor should state what they can and won’t do; that is, it can help them learn but won’t help them find a new job, at least at the beginning. It is essential to build trust first. “There’s a difference between mentorship and coaching, mentorship and sponsorship and allyship,” says Miller. “I don’t think they’re the same. They can become the same when the mentee behaves their way into a reputation of being trusted and delivering on commitments.” Furthermore, by setting boundaries, the mentor is “preventing the mentee from being embarrassed or placing [the mentor] in an awkward position where you need to say no.”
Mentors serve as validators, too. At the same time, there are limits to validation, “This role that can be life-changing for someone where you are genuinely, authentically, judiciously validating your mentee’s genius. You slow down, take a pause, you change your voice inflection and your tone.” The conviction in your voice emphasizes the importance you place on your mentee’s plans. “Use it with great caution, and you have the chance to name someone’s genius in them that they never knew existed.”
A favorite role for mentors can be that of the navigator, who is just a step ahead of the mentee because they are learning along with the mentee. “You can ask smart, open-ended questions that will allow your mentee to avoid the potholes that you see right in front of you.” Your sense of curiosity and “a passion to help your mentee, to help them navigate the process.”
Reciprocity is critical
Mentorship is based upon reciprocity. The mentor makes themselves available to help while the mentee makes themselves available to be responsible with the time granted and the knowledge shared with them. Mentors should not aspire to control, nor should mentees feel obliged to follow through on advice given. Both need autonomy to determine the path that benefits them both.
“You don’t have to have all the answers,” says Miller, “you just have to have good questions.” These questions will open doors to a greater understanding of self and growth opportunities.
Note: Here is a link to my entire LinkedIn Live interview with Scott Jeffrey Miller.
First posted on Forbes.com 9.00.2023