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How to Become a Great Mentor? 7 Hacks to Help People Grow

You want to be a great mentor? But what actually is good mentoring, and how can you be the best? Practice the 7 hacks of great mentors to actually help people grow.

October 13, 2020
November 7, 2023

How to Become a Great Mentor? 7 Hacks to Help People Grow

Mentoring is the new black! But what actually is good mentoring, and how can you be the best? Practice the 7 hacks of great mentors to actually help people grow. And guess what: it's not about what you know, but all about what you do.
Have you not noticed – organizations large and small launch programs connecting mentors and mentees for exchange, learning, and growth? In a global war for talent, mentoring is great for employer branding, employee engagement, and retention. It increases satisfaction for both employer and employee and helps develop talent. Mentoring is the new black!

But with all that fuzz about mentoring, it seems to be everything and nothing. Numerous definitions put different emphasis on the role of experience, authority, and promotion a mentor can play. But one thing seems to be in common:

“It’s about helping people grow.” Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook in her book, “Lean in”.

Indeed, if we look back at history, this simple definition of what mentoring is and why it has persevered seems to be true.

The Story of Mentoring

The term “mentor” first appeared with the Greeks in Homer’s Odyssey between the eighth and ninth centuries BCE, but was only published in the 15th century. The first recorded modern usage of the term can be traced to a 1699 book entitled, “Les Aventures de Télémaque”, by the French writer François Fénelon. In the 1980s, mentoring found its way into the corporate environment, education, and diversity management. Ever since March 2005 with the launch of Y Combinator (the best startup accelerator worldwide) it revolutionized entrepreneurship education and support. Today, mentoring is all about community.

The Story of Mentoring

What makes a great mentor?

Being aware of the multiple benefits and spread of mentoring the question appears: What makes a good mentor? And how can one be the best mentor? And the more research piles on the topic of mentorship, the more it’s clear. Great mentoring is less about what a mentor knows, and way more about what a mentor does.

It’s not about what you know. It’s about what you do.

A great mentor does not know it better and is definitely not a “know-it-all”. A great mentor is the rare combination of soft skills and empathy that makes a person want to actually help people grow. Here is what it takes:

The 7 hacks of great mentors

1.    Meet often

OK, while this might seem to be a no-brainer, it's truly the most common factor that makes mentorship fail. Relationships need time and space to flourish. And if you’ve done all the rest wrong but continue investing in them, eventually you will figure it out. So, meet often. As a recommendation, informal meetings once in a while are best in person, but virtual check-ins of as little as 15 minutes per week can do magic!

2.    Listen carefully

Listening is one of the four verbal communication skills (next to reading, writing, and speaking). In today’s society, it's largely undervalued, but is one of the most difficult to master. A lot of mentors wrongly assume their role is to “consult” the mentee. But if mentoring is about helping people grow, then it’s absolutely not about you, your experience, your thoughts, your knowledge; it’s about the others. And guess what: you have two ears and one mouth. Think about it.

3.    Take it seriously

A lot of mentors engage with their time but remain disengaged with their mentorship. However, mentoring is an unpaid, voluntary agreement – it’s your choice. So, make something out of it – do it on purpose and take it seriously.

4.    Give feedback

Now, this is a science. And as for every good research, we’ve put together some advice on giving feedback that actually helps people grow based on research published in HBR.

Here are the four elements of great feedback in brief:

·     Preparation

Be yourself, but when you're giving tough feedback as a mentor, you're changing people's lives. So don't be emotional, and prepare for the tough talks. Great mentors even meditate - they really do!

I noticed that ...

This made me feel like ...

·     Intention

It's not about you, but it's about the others. Simply telling people "the truth" typically doesn't get them anywhere further than being insulted. Great feedback always has the intention to help a person increase motivation.

·     Openness

If your feedback just contains your side of the story, your solution, and your experience, it will not reach the recipient. That's one thing you can guarentee. Openness is necessary for true connection.

·     Participation

Your job is not to offer a solution, but invite the person to participate in the solution finding. Ask questions like:

What ideas do you have?

What are you taking away from this conversation?

What steps will you take, by when, and how will I know?

5.    Open doors

A lot of times a mentee would benefit most from another connection. So be a matchmaker. Metaphorically and literally, do something, too. Just as doing only is not enough, knowing other people is also not enough. Do you want to be a mentor? Then you should open doors and remove boundaries. Present people for their strengths. Help them present not just who they are today, but who they could become. And on top of it all, always care for diversity. We're all not perfect. And we're all different. Try to find a way to connect with people different than you, too. Open doors for them and for you. This is how you make a difference.

6.    Be a role model

Remember that it’s about what you do. Remember the code of ethics and “walk the talk”. Integrity is power and strength, so don't compromise it easily. Never discuss other people's business publicly, and keep secrets well. Also, consider unconscious bias: studies show, even changing the person's name changes our perception of their intellectual and emotional capacity. Always be aware of bias.

7.    Be your own great mentor

In a nutshell, mentoring is way more powerful than you think and if you want to engage as a mentor and truly help a person grow, the best way to start is by starting with yourself. Great mentors are mentors to themselves, too. So be your own mentor:

·    Meet often
·    Listen carefully
·    Take yourself seriously
·    Give feedback
·    Open doors
·    Be a role model

To find out more about how Mentessa can foster a culture of connection and create a happier, more motivated and productive workforce:

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