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Starting out as a mentor

Getting the right start to your mentoring relationship helps to make sure that you and your mentor get the most out of it.

Before you begin

Good planning can make all the difference to a mentoring relationship. Professional mentor and coach Ian Carry says: "Before doing it, think about the existing ‘mentoring’ that you might do. It might be within your own organization. Reflect on what you enjoy about it, and how you think you're effective. Just give some thought to existing mentoring, and that will probably highlight the benefits that you get and the mentee gets, and that will identify your strengths and weaknesses.

"Reflect on yourself and the relationship and be aware of yourself, what you get drawn into and what you're not so good at, and then you're in a position to go forwards and do a lot and listen."

If you haven't mentored before, coach Hilary Dobson recommends thinking about how much you can take on. "Start with small bites. Take on one or two people at the most, and don't have too much expectation on either side." That doesn't mean being pessimistic about what you can achieve, but being realistic and reflecting on what you can help to ensure you have a productive mentoring relationship.

Who are you?

"People like to feel that someone who is going to mentor them has got the skills and experience," says Sarah Hargreaves. If you're mentoring someone from a different sector, this can be a challenge at first. "Although it shouldn't be a factor, I think it often is because you don't have anything else to go on. It's less relevant when you actually get down to it, but people still consider it."

The important thing is to establish how your background and expertise are relevant to your mentee. "What helps is that when you're set up to meet someone they've bought into the idea that you can help them," says Hilary Dobson. "I think people want to know that the person they're working with has relevant experience. But once they're confident that you're competent, it doesn't need to arise again."

Chemistry

Any mentoring relationship has to start by making sure you're working with the right person. Coach and mentor Sarah Hargreaves says: "You need a good relationship, but it's also about whether they trust you, whether they listen to what you say and find it useful, whether you prompt the right sort of thinking in them. I suppose it's building a relationship the way one does with anybody. You are trying to build some sort of rapport. You need to be non-judgmental: if someone wants you to work with them, and you disapprove of something they say or do, that wouldn't be great."

But Sarah finds that, for her at least, every meeting provides an opportunity. "I've never coached anyone I didn't enjoy and find interesting," she says. "Whenever you work with someone, they're always interesting."

For the mentee, however, things might be more difficult, and mentors need to be understanding of this. "You have to consider the power relationship," says Ian Carry. "A new mentee might be quite awe-struck about having a mentor. You have to put yourself in the mentee's shoes, understand the power relationship and deal with that very sensitively. You have to be responsible with the power that you've been given."

Setting goals

"People are different as to how they want things set up," says Hilary Dobson. "They may want quite an actionable goal to work on. They might say, 'Look, I'm very clear about what it is I want, I need help specifically on managing time. I want an action plan.' For others, it's a theme, which might be 'I'm finding my boss difficult', or relationships in general with colleagues are difficult. You would then refine that theme during the mentoring."

This means considering what the mentee needs, and what their organization needs. "As well as the individual, it's making sure that you're aligned with the organization that that person's a part of," says Ian Carry. "Ensure it's the mentee's agenda: don't impose. Keep in the front of your mind that it's their learning and development, and you can intervene and challenge but it's really based round their need. You can find yourself drawn into various areas, but you need to remember it's their agenda."