Mentoring: The Critical Role of a Mentor

Mentoring: The Critical Role of a Mentor

At Menttium, we know from our 27 years of leading formal, structured mentoring programs that the role of the mentors in a mentoring partnership is absolutely critical to the quality and caliber of the mentoring experience. An effective mentor who understands the nuances of mentoring versus managing, sponsoring, and coaching will elevate a mentoring program from good to great and can ultimately help to transform a mentee’s career and even life.

At Menttium, we provide tools, resources, and guidance to enable mentors to be effective in their roles. While many experienced business professionals are effective leaders, mentoring requires a different skill-set. What does it take to be an outstanding mentor in a structured mentoring program?

What is Mentoring?

While we’re sure that you have an idea of what mentoring is, our interpretation of mentoring goes beyond a typical definition. For over 27 years, Menttium has helped organizations and individuals to accelerate leadership development through matching key talent with seasoned business leaders through structured mentoring partnerships.

At its core, mentoring is an equal partnership with two-way learning, where a climate of trust is established in which honest dialogues can transpire. It’s this intentionality around creating a safe space where individuals can explore authentic leadership and truly surface both challenges and opportunities they are facing in an emotionally safe space. Mentoring provides an opportunity to accelerate mentee growth and unlock potential to ultimately drive development, engagement, and retention for organizations. Through a mentoring partnership, all stakeholders benefit; mentee, mentor, and organization.

Mentoring is not remedial or for those who are only seeking to find or impart spontaneous or casual advice. And within that same vein, mentoring is not a job search or recruitment strategy; mentoring is a two-way relationship and a practical, pragmatic leadership development intervention that focuses on developing the whole person to unlock potential. At Menttium, our mentoring philosophy is mentee driven and mentor guided! That means that the mentee is in the driver’s seat and will ultimately get out of the partnership what he/she puts into it. So if the mentor is a guide, what does that mean? What is the role of the mentor and what traits do they need to succeed?

Genuine Interest and Confidence

Being genuine is a vital skill for a mentor to possess. Taking the time to build rapport both in the beginning of a partnership with a mentee and throughout the entirety of the mentoring experience will demonstrate your commitment to helping your mentee succeed. There are many ways in which you can work to express your commitment and interest to your mentee. Either through small actions like being all-in when meeting with your mentee (meaning no interruptions from work or home with plenty of time for listening) or more significant steps like asking your mentee to shadow you to better understand your work and provide additional visibility.  Showing genuine interest and proving your confidence by both retaining and safeguarding the information shared during your interactions with your mentee will demonstrate to your mentee that you are fully committed and invested in developing your mentee and focusing on his/her development goals.

Listening Skills

Ask yourself “why am I talking?” Is the answer a legitimate reason to be communicating at the present moment? If not, take a step back. Any mentor can give advice, but a great mentor receives, appreciates, and summarizes information provided by their mentee before speaking. Imagine your mentee’s concerns like a bucket of water. They need to empty their concerns before you can begin to add suggestions back into the bucket. You start too soon, and the bucket overflows, leading to information being lost and forgotten. A mentor is intended to be a guide, not an all-knowing sage, and an effective mentor listens to understand rather than listening to respond.

Powerful Questions

Powerful questions: it’s a simple concept with a big impact. Powerful questions are a critical component to get the most out of a mentoring partnership. Powerful questions are mostly art vs. science. It’s about listening for nuances and going deeper. It’s about avoiding yes/no questions and going beyond the obvious. It’s about inquiry and broader discussion. It’s about asking open-ended questions that can broaden perspective. Powerful questions can be used by mentors to build rapport and trust, challenge thinking, and accelerate learning to create a space of reflecting on what is possible vs. what is. The ability to ask powerful questions is a critical skill for a successful mentoring partnership and ultimately deepens learning.

Great Storytelling

Research has shown us that the brain releases a hormone associated with empathy and trust in response to character-driven narratives; this is why we counsel our mentors to work on being the best storytellers they can be. A great mentor is one that uses storytelling to communicate tales of human struggle and triumph in a way that leaves mentees pondering new truths.

What Kind of Mentor Will You Be?

At Menttium, we offer mentor orientation sessions for our new mentors and conduct both virtual and in-person sessions for mentors to connect and learn from each other. Whether you are interested in becoming a mentor or have been mentoring for many years, connect with the Menttium Team to learn more about mentoring for our Cross-Company programs.