When you hear the word “mentor,” what comes to mind? Most people think of a senior executive taking a younger person “under their wing” and teaching them the ins and outs of the business. In this vision, the seasoned veteran teaches the rookie how to survive and thrive, in order to help the novice succeed and progress in management. However, that traditional view doesn’t quite capture today’s reality, in which the mentor/mentee relationship takes on many guises. Executive women mentor younger women, seasoned workers mentor new employees, and in a turnaround from the standard model, younger workers mentor older workers who are new to the organization, or new to a field such as technology. There are numerous possibilities.

You should consider it an honor if you’re asked to mentor someone, but what do you do if you feel unprepared for the role? You’ve been approached with an opportunity to be a mentor and you wonder if you should. You need to ask yourself if you have what it takes to fulfill the significant responsibilities of mentorship.

Four telling questions

  1. The first question you need to ask yourself is: are you a good listener? There are many people who are filled with knowledge and happy to impart that knowledge to any audience, whether that audience wants it or not. Good talkers aren’t necessarily good mentors. Being a mentor is not about telling what you know, it’s about helping your mentee discover what he or she needs to know. A good mentor knows how to ask great questions to help the mentee get what they’re seeking from the relationship, the organization, and their career.
  2. The second question is: are you organized? The mentor/mentee relationship is about more than an occasional chat over a cup of coffee. It needs to be a structured experience with objectives that will deliver what the mentee wants to learn. That means regular encounters, with a thoughtful agenda. Lessons are learned, assignments are given, and difficulties are overcome. The mentor does not lead these sessions, but rather provides the framework for the mentee to have a directed learning experience based on the mentee’s needs. The mentor does this through a Socratic method of questions and inquiry.
  3. Third: are you empathetic and honest? It’s important to be empathetic to the mentee’s experience and to be honest enough to tell a mentee when they have gone astray. Of course, honesty must be tempered with kindness. Correcting your mentee’s behavior can be accomplished gently or harshly, and gently is better.
  4. The fourth question is: are you willing to learn? The most valuable mentor/mentee relationship is not a one-way street. Under the best of circumstances, the mentor can also learn from the mentee, who may come from a different background or hold a different perspective on things. If you feel you have nothing to learn, though, this relationship will have no value to you personally. In that case, you’re probably not going to give it your best.

Concerns a mentor may have

A mentor may be rightfully concerned about taking on the responsibility of a mentoring relationship. Problems to overcome may include gender differences, generational differences, socio-economic differences, and any other area that affects how well you might relate to your mentee. For example, a thirty-year-old might wonder if she could productively mentor a fifty-year-old new employee. These are genuine concerns, but they should not stop you in your tracks. Going forward with the relationship is a decision that’s up to the individuals entering into the relationship. If either the mentor or the mentee is uncomfortable with the combination of personalities, then don’t proceed.

What if it doesn’t work out?

If you take on a mentoring relationship, there may well be some hiccups as you lay the groundwork. Don’t be discouraged. But further along, if you get into the relationship and there’s a problem (such as; you dislike the person, or they don’t respect the relationship, or no one is learning), then you should discontinue working together. Explain that value has to be derived from the relationship and if no one is getting anything from the process, it’s a waste of time to keep going. If you have to say “It’s not working,” don’t be shy about it.

Do you have what it takes to be a mentor? Are you a good listener? Are you organized? Are you empathetic and honest? Are you willing to apply yourself and are you interested in learning? If the answer is “no” to any of these questions, you may want to leave the mentoring to someone else.

Andreea Hrab

International HR Director for OSF Global Services, Andreea is a veteran recruiter who has seen them all. She developed HR recruiting strategies and retention programs that guarantees the success of the company. She is a people person and she handles very easy new relationships with new employees, but her most interesting challenge is to find the middle way between company’s best interests and employee’s needs. To learn more about Andreea contact her on LinkedIn.

3 Comments

  • Avatar Lynda Roberts says:

    Once I had a very good mentor who was really teaching me to do my job better. This was a great source of experience and useful acquaintances. It was good at the start, but the most stable business colleagues I acquired were those I got to know without anybody else’s help.

  • Avatar Suzanne L. says:

    Mentoring is good until it turns into exploiting a mentee who has to do a part of a mentor’s job in addition to their main duties. Of course, if a mentor has a lot of work to do, he turns a mentee into an assistant, and he has a right to do it, I think, but he shouldn’t take it to extremes

  • Avatar Lily S. says:

    Being a mentor is difficult and challenging. It makes an impact on another person’s life, so it’s not worth doing it just because it will make you feel important. You have to be willing to share your expertise, learn how to share it in the best possible way, and inspire your mentee to become a better specialist.

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