How to be a mentor

This post was originally published on Medium.

I recently attended a mentoring workshop as part of the IPA Women of Tomorrow Awards , led by Gwyn March. I was so inspired by it that I wanted to share some of the key points.

1. There is a difference between mentoring and coaching

A coach is someone who listens to your problem and helps you to come up with your own solution, without giving you direct advice.

A mentor listens to your problem and uses their own experience to advise you on how to come up with your own solutions.

I hadn’t thought much previously about the difference between mentoring and coaching, but clarifying it helped me to understand what I was looking for — a mentor who would use their experience to help me progress.

2. Mentoring should be focussed and action driven

Mentoring is often thought of as a long standing relationship with someone who you can go to to talk about any issues that you come up with at any point.

However, successful mentoring relationships are in fact short and focussed, lasting between 3 and 6 months, and should drive you towards a change you are looking to make or a challenge you want to resolve.

This helped me to think about how to approach a mentor, the need to clearly identify what I need help with and what outcome I want from it.

3. “What would you do if you weren’t afraid”

We were reminded of this quote from Sheryl Sandberg from her book Lean In and it really made me think. We can all be too stuck in our own comfort zones and it is a helpful mantra to repeat when faced with new challenges.

It helps you to get clarity on the challenge you’re facing — if the answer to the question is “I would do it” — then do it! If it’s not, then there is something deeper to the challenge that needs to be more fully explored.

4. How likely are you going to do this action /10?

We were encouraged, as mentors, to ask the mentee at the end of their session once they had defined an action how likely they are to do it, marks out of ten.

This really struck a chord with me — so often I’ve seen myself, and others, at work half-heartedly agreeing to actions because someone needs to do them, or they sound like a good idea in theory. If we stopped to be honest about the actions we would either delegate to someone else, or ignore the action entirely.

We’re taking this on in our weekly operations meeting which often carries a long list of actions that once seemed a good idea but weeks later have yet to be completed.

5. Can I just check for my notes…?

Active listening is a crucial skill, not just in mentoring, but in all meetings. It can be incredibly difficult whilst on the phone where the person you’re meeting can’t see you checking your emails or writing your shopping list and where nodding along just does not work.

I’m not a fan of constant “hmm” or “yes” peppered through calls — I find it annoying. However a tip I will take on is to pause the conversation, ask “can I just check for my notes?” and relay back to the person what you took from what they’ve told you. This builds confidence from them that you have understood them, and allows you to hand the baton back to them to listen to the next part as they talk undisturbed.

I walked out feeling inspired

I came out buzzing, wanting to share what I had learnt and hoping to inspire others to think about whether they could mentor someone, or benefit from being mentored themselves.

This post is a summary of the key points I shared with my company, White October, in a presentation at our monthly knowledge share session, First Friday. You can see my full slides here

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