How to Be a Great Mentor in the Workplace

Businessman mentoring coaching employee
marvent /

There is something truly lacking in today’s workplace: a mentor – someone who is willing and able to take an employee under their wing and provide professional advice to help that person climb the ladder.

Of course, today’s young professionals are too proud and perhaps even too cynical to accept the guidance of a coach, but the research shows that there are only benefits to mentoring.

Years of studies conclude that mentoring relationships typically lead to higher compensation, greater job satisfaction, more promotions and enhanced self-confidence for the mentee. Considering the roles and responsibilities your typical mentor has – motivating, counselling, sponsoring and inspiring – and the innumerable benefits, it is surprising that the average business does not have such a programme to show a new employee the ropes.

Even if your organisation refrains from adopting or encouraging some type of coaching, you may need to take it upon yourself to mentor someone.

Unsure if you have the qualities and skills for what it takes? Here are seven tips on how to be a great mentor in the workplace.

1. Focus on the Mentee

While mentoring at the office does not need to be uptight and formal, it is still a prudent idea to ensure there is structure involved. You will want to match your skills and education to the mentee, focus on the student and their needs, and ensure that the relationship is a productive one.

For instance, if you’re in marketing, then you should find an aspiring public relationships specialist, not a human resources abecedarian. It’s always important, as a mentor, to pass wisdom to someone in your field. This is the best process to have because it guarantees that you focus on the mentee.

Remember: the mentor needs to pick the right mentee – and vice versa.

2. Outline the Goals

Here is a question that both parties, the mentor and the mentee, need to ask: what is the goal of this relationship?

By outlining the key objectives of this partnership, you can ensure that this is a fruitful endeavour, one that will lead to a road of career advancement and prosperity. Rather than wasting time by just sharing tips on work, you can apply an effective model that offers a career buffet:

  • fostering connections
  • enhancing hard and soft skills
  • adapting to changing times
  • preparing for any major milestones.

To achieve this, it begins by listening to the pupil. You’re there to guide the student, so heed to their wishes and aims, not yours. Once you accomplish this, you will quote the famous line from Casablanca: ‘I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship’.

3. Share What You Know

Let’s be candid: communication is a dying art form. Whether it is because we are buried in our smartphones or everyone suddenly has a case of social anxiety, we don’t know how to communicate anymore. Even a seasoned professional who has been in this business for decades is beginning to witness his communication skills dissipate. It’s your job to improve it, though.

This is an important development because a crucial aspect of mentoring is to share what you know. If you can’t perform this effective tactic, then you should step aside now and let someone else mentor.

As a mentor, you have stumbled upon a large volume of information – professionally and otherwise. It is your duty to share this fountain of wisdom with the newcomers. Everything that you know – career, life, relationships – should be passed on to the younger generation. Yes, it is imperative that new workers fall off the horse in order to pick themselves up, but you can still provide ample advice to improve the odds of staying on top of the animal.

4. Create an Open-Door Policy

It might be inherent, or it might be learned; whatever the case, it is important that you are an approachable person. A mentee wants to feel that they can come to you for anything at any time. If you are routinely denying them the opportunity to speak with you, or you always appear to be the busiest person in the world (no, playing Solitaire doesn’t count), then they may be hesitant.

Moving forward, you should establish an open-door policy.

How do you do that?

It’s simple enough.

Should a mentee want to speak with you about a problem they are having, or they want some advice relating to their position, then you should be readily available. Of course, there are times when it might be impossible, but if this is a recurring theme, then they’ll feel rejected and become despondent.

5. Be Honest

Tell the truth – or at least don’t tell a lie.

You’ve heard the old expression ‘honesty is the best policy’. Well, it’s true – and it’s a piece of wisdom that you should embrace as you work with younger workers. By hiding your true assessment, lying for the sake of not wanting to hurt feelings and withholding your honesty, you risk doing more harm than good in the long run. The role of a mentor is not friendship, but coaching, which requires to be blunt when the occasion calls for it.

Imagine if a football manager or an NBA coach never criticised their players.

While it is true that the younger workforce is more prone to sensitivity because of the participation trophies route, it is now your job to rectify that and make sure that they are ready for the real world. It’s part of your mentoring skills.

One more thing: you should be genuine in your interest in the person. This is part of being honest; if you fake your interest, then it will be obvious in so many different ways.

6. Remain a Neutral Party

Objectivity and neutrality are crucial components of being a mentor. If a mentee makes a drastic mistake, then they need to be called out on it. If they misstep at the office, then it should be pointed out. If they fail to take anything seriously, then it is your responsibility to correct the apathy that they’re employing.

Without these two important qualities – and there’s plenty more – then you’re simply an indifferent supervisor at the office, and nobody is better for it. Indeed, you are investing your time, energy and resources to mentoring, and it is important to be a trained observer – you should always maintain the attitude of being on the outside looking in.

When in doubt, be like Switzerland.

7. Continue to Learn

A common mistake that novice mentors make is believing that they need to be this all-knowing wizard who has the answer to everything and never makes errors. This is wrong on so many levels. A leader can and will make mistakes, but the important thing is to learn from them, which is then passed onto the mentee who sees the importance of always learning.

Moreover, a mentor needs to continually be learning about the industry, job, company and everything else that is essential to being effective as a leader.

Just because you’re in your 50s or you have been in this business for several years, it doesn’t mean you quit educating yourself. You owe it to yourself and your students to always be improving.

So, you’re interested in being a mentor. We hope this is something you thought a lot about. This is a pursuit you cannot think of doing overnight.

Because it takes a lot of commitment, you need to be absolutely certain that you want to mentor an up-and-coming graduate who wants to advance their career in finance, marketing, law or culinary. They are eager and ready to get to work – it’s this kind of energy that is hard for most mentors to endure these days.

There’s a lot that goes with becoming a great advisor. You need the time, acumen, dedication and, most importantly, genuine interest of taking someone under your wing. If you have a lot to offer, then so do they – it’s a win-win.

Like parenting, if you need to ask yourself if you’re a good mentor, you already know that you’re a superb one!

Do you have any other mentoring tips you’d like to share with us? Join the conversation down below and let us know!