10 Essential Tips for How to Be a Mentor

  • Jan 24
10 Essential Tips for How to Be a Mentor

One of the natural byproducts of experience is the desire to pass on what you’ve learned. It doesn’t matter whether that’s in a professional setting, personal, or some other sphere in between. After all, shared knowledge is what’s helped bring about some of the greatest discoveries in the history of humankind. Isaac Newton famously stated in 1675, “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Wanting to pass along our wisdom is a natural human inclination. However, not everyone knows how to be a mentor.

Of course, there are dozens – possibly hundred – of tips floating around out there on how to be a good mentor. So, many people have various ideas about what it takes. Instead of trying to offer as many tips as possible, we wanted to narrow it down to a handful that you can take and employ immediately.

So, whether you’re already a mentor or looking for ways to get started, be sure to pay attention to these areas. They can make or break the relationship and determine how beneficial mentorship ends up.

Actionable Tips for How to Be a Mentor

1. Genuinely Know Your Mentee

One of the first and most important steps you can take as a mentor is getting to know the person you’re helping. After all, guiding them toward success can’t easily happen without understanding them personally. Unlike a counseling relationship, the standing between a mentor and mentee isn’t always beholden to strict barriers. And while professionalism is still warranted, understanding how to connect on a more personal level – even as friends – is often helpful.

For instance, helping another come into a position of leadership without recognizing their intense fear of public speaking. Technically, you could still guide them toward appropriate opportunities and activities. You could pass along all the knowledge you have. But if you fail to recognize one of the core, personal barriers keeping them from achieving their goals, your wisdom might fall short.

At the same time, knowing the mentee isn’t solely about helping them overcome obstacles. It leads to a stronger relationship, where you each trust the other with hopes, goals, and even criticism. After all, the mentoring relationship revolves around truth. Sometimes, that means addressing difficult topics. Understanding who your mentee is will help guide these conversations in a productive, mutually beneficial way.

Recognizing how to be a mentor starts with this very basic yet sometimes difficult step – get to know your mentee.

2. Recognize Your Shared Goals

Often, the mentoring role is mistaken as self-sacrificial. You give up your time to help another person who needs guidance and get nothing in return. But that misconception couldn’t be further from the truth. In any healthy relationship, each party helps the other in some way. And since a mentorship is a relationship, that has to be the case here as well.

Perhaps your only goal as a mentor is to make sure you pass what you’ve learned along. Maybe you see great potential in a younger colleague and want to do everything in your power to watch them succeed. No matter your objective, you should go into the relationship recognizing it.

Furthermore, be up-front and honest about your reasons for wanting to mentor someone. That way, you share responsibility to meet those goals. Most relationships are complex, and mentorship isn’t any different. Each person brings hopes and wants to the table, and moving forward together is what helps bring those to fruition.

3. Be Willing to Share Your Own Journey

Mentors take on an instructive role because they have relevant experience and know what it’s like to navigate a specific situation. So, keeping personal successes and failures a secret or seeing them as irrelevant withholds a vital element of the relationship.

Ultimately, a mentee might learn best from understanding how certain events impacted you or shaped your journey. After all, most people learn a great deal by hearing how another handled similar situations.

If you feel incapable of sharing your story with another, then that might be the first sign mentoring isn’t for you. At least, not at that moment. Because knowing how to be a mentor means two-way trust. Just as the mentor needs to understand who the mentee is, the learner should also understand the teacher.

4. Actively Engage the Relationship

There are many ways to discuss this part of the mentoring relationship:

  • Make sure you have time
  • Ensure you have the energy
  • Discern whether you’re emotionally prepared

If the mentor sees the relationship as just another thing on a long “to-do” list, it won’t work. They must be wholly invested in the success of not just the mentee but the mentorship itself. So, deciding to enter into this sort of partnership requires a bit of self-reflection and introspection beforehand.

If you want to mentor but don’t feel you have time, you either need to create time or wait. The same goes for energy and a whole list of other important aspects.

Trying to half-ass this sort of relationship will leave the mentor drained and the learner confused at best. At worst, they might give up, trash their goals, and move along to something else. They could become entirely discouraged and feel like they weren’t worth the time. So, unless you’re completely prepared to invest heavily in another person, wait to start mentoring.

5. Build Trust Through Open Communication

The basis of any good mentorship rests on open communication, because this helps build trust and encourage growth. Or perhaps it’s the other way around – trust leads to open communication. All in all, the two seem inseparable. And attempting to establish a strong relationship apart from them is pointless.

After all, the mentoring relationship requires honesty on the part of both members. If the learner isn’t truthful with their teacher or themself about their shortfalls, they can’t properly address them. If a mentor doesn’t have all the pertinent information, they might find it difficult to help the mentee advance.

Likewise, if the mentor is too concerned about personal feelings to state the truth, it could prevent the mentee from reaching their objectives. However, critiques offered in the context of a trusting mentorship can help bring about needed change and propel the person to new heights.

In fact, any mentorship void of constructive criticism isn’t set for success. Because the learner assumes they have something they need to change or learn. Otherwise, they wouldn’t seek out the advice of someone with more experience.

So, knowing how to be a mentor means recognizing the importance of trust, open communication, and even constructive criticism.

6. Always Continue Learning

In an interesting twist, one of the most important parts of becoming a mentor is continuing your own educational journey. After all, the world changes, society doesn’t stay the same, and neither do most other things. If you stagnate in your knowledge, you might lead your mentee astray. In fact, even your successes could be outdated.

Take, as an example, a marketing professional from the early 2000s. They might have succeeded through traditional print media like magazines and newspapers. However, those tactics would be widely outdated in today’s marketing world of email, social media, and SEO. Without understanding those shifts, they wouldn’t be able to pass along helpful information.

Of course, that’s a simple example, but it points toward the larger problem – any mentor out of touch with the times can’t be a helpful resource. At least so far as their mentee’s goals depend on understanding current trends.

Fortunately, there are plenty of ways for professionals to keep learning, from online courses to conventions and other opportunities. All you need to do is figure out which methods work for you and then plug into them.

7. Listen and Discern

Sometimes, the job of a mentor is to parse what the learner communicates, even when they don’t know how to say what they mean. It entails reading between the lines, understanding deeper themes in their personal and professional journey, and knowing how to focus on the right details.

Active listening and acute discernment skills are essential for this aspect of the relationship. Because the mentor must know how to take what the other says and guide them toward appropriate conclusions and responses.

That’s not to say all mentees attempt to cover up what they mean. But sometimes, they simply don’t know how to compile and interpret their own thoughts as easily as someone looking in can. As such, one of the most basic roles of the mentor is helping construct a pathway for learners to navigate their own thoughts, then walking along those roads together.

8. Help Your Mentee Find Resources for Growth

Sometimes, you might not have all the answers for your mentee’s questions. And even if you do, you might want them to find those answers for themselves. Part of knowing how to be a mentor also means knowing where to find resources for growth. Just as a mentor might take courses to continue their learning, they might ask the same of the mentee. Discovering and compiling helpful sources for personal and professional growth goes a long way toward accomplishing goals.

Of course, these different opportunities might cover a wide range of formats, material and activities. The specifics will heavily vary from one mentorship to another. But the important thing is that the leader knows exactly how to discover these opportunities and point the learner toward ones which will help them most.

9. Take An Interest In the Mentee’s Personal and Professional Wellbeing

Of course, if it hasn’t been made clear by now, the mentor needs to be invested not simply in the relationship but in the person they mentor. After all, their efforts in passing along their knowledge and expertise all come down to that aspect. If they don’t do everything in their power to guide the person to appropriate, goals, conclusions, and opportunities, they’re wasting their own time.

But again, mentorship goes beyond simply the professional. They must address all aspects of the person’s life in order to help them attain their goals. Problems at home, with family, and personal struggles can harm professional growth just as much as career-focused issues. So, accounting for those areas as well is paramount in the mentorship journey.

Ultimately, the heart of the mentor’s motivation should be care. They want to see the other person succeed both personally and professionally. And they can’t do this without personal investment in their wellbeing.

10. Celebrate Successes

Finally, mentors must celebrate successes. Focusing on failures dampens the relationship, even if addressing them is necessary. Even if the mentee takes a while between major successes, celebrate small steps. Do what’s necessary to help encourage the learner and show them you’re truly on their side.

Knowing they have someone in their corner rooting for them is often enough to inspire greater motivation, confidence, and effort.

Really, it’s a simple enough tip, but it goes a long way toward establishing a lasting and meaningful partnership.

Always Continue Learning How to Be a Mentor

We already said it, but we’ll mention it again – never stop learning. Mentors have the responsibility to stay up with the times and help pass along important information to their protégés. So, they can’t afford to stagnate in their knowledge. Sometimes, that might even mean finding a mentor of their own.

Fortunately, VTR Learning can help out with that. If you’re wondering how to be a mentor, you can always check out our course called Shadow a CEO. It offers a glimpse into the world of a corporate leader and shows how they themselves might mentor others under their charge.

Alternatively, if you’re looking for a way to bolster your skill set, we have an entire host of courses covering everything from leadership to decision making. So, check out the shop now to learn more.

Article written by Braden Norwood

Last updated January 24, 2024