Take a minute to think about the best mentor you’ve ever had. It could be your manager, a colleague, a parent, a friend, a coach, a college professor.
Then, you reach a point in your life where you have the chance to do the same for someone else. It can be both exciting, and a little confusing.
In this article, you’ll get tips from both mentors and mentees on what it takes to foster this successful relationship.
A mentor is a trusted, seasoned advisor who supports and guides someone through their personal and/or professional journey. They do so by getting to know their mentee, providing resources tailored to their specific needs, and brainstorming solutions to challenges.
What does it mean to be a mentor?
At its core, being a mentor is being a trusted advisor. It all boils down to making yourself available to support and advise someone when they need it, delivering that support in a way that makes sense to them, and always keeping that person’s best interests in mind.
So, what value does a mentor bring? It depends on who you ask.
For Vrnda LeValley, customer training manager at HubSpot, it’s a shift in perspective.
“My mentor provides a perspective that isn’t riddled with the same self-doubt and stereotype sensitivities that I desperately want to avoid and handicap me,” she says, “and a broader view of the implications of action versus inaction because they have a better vantage point from their upstream position within the company.”
She adds that her mentor has been able to step in and correct narratives that muddy her ability to make the most strategic decisions.
For Legal Specialist at HubSpot Jason Perry, one of the benefits of mentorship is the opportunity to extend your network.
“I most value the trust and confidence they extend to me by granting me access and recommending me to their broader networks,” he said.
Beyond that, there’s a certain freedom that comes with having a mentor.
“I think it allows for an open space to be vulnerable with someone who is more senior in their career but does not have direct control over your career growth,” said Chloe Washington, chief of staff to the CMO at HubSpot. “You can be more transparent and ask questions you may not feel comfortable asking your manager or another co-worker.”
With that said, the mentorship doesn’t just benefit the mentee, it’s a two-sided relationship.
“I am constantly inspired by what my mentees are doing, their ambition, and their goals,” Washington said. “It motivates me as I continue along my career journey. It also allows me to form relationships with people that I may have not otherwise been able to speak with as much or as often.”
- Understand what you want out of the relationship.
- Set expectations together in the very beginning.
- Take a genuine interest in your mentee as a person.
- Build trust.
- Know when to give advice.
- Don’t assume anything about your mentee – ask.
- Share your journey.
- Celebrate their achievements.
- Seek out resources to help your mentee grow.
- Be sure you have the bandwidth.
1. Understand what you want out of the relationship.
As we’ve mentioned, mentorship isn’t a one-way relationship. This means that just like the mentee, you should know the type of relationship you’re seeking and what you want to gain.
Charlene Strain, marketing manager at HubSpot, serves as a mentor and suggests asking yourself these questions to get started:
- Do you view it as a two-way street, player-coach relationship where you learn from them as much as they learn from you or something else?
- How can you sharpen your area of expertise?
- Do they have connections or gaps of knowledge for you as well?
- How does taking on a mentorship role strengthen you as a leader in your personal and professional life?
Knowing these answers will help you frame your mentorship strategy and start with clear intentions.
2. Set expectations together in the very beginning.
Once you know what you want out of the relationship as a mentor, setting expectations is the next natural step.
Every mentor-mentee relationship is unique. So, when you first start out, discuss expectations with your mentee and determine if you’re ready for that commitment.
“Everyone works and receives feedback differently, so it’s important to understand if the relationship is a fit for both parties [based] on what they’re looking for,” said Strain.
Here’s what Strain recommends discussing:
- Is there a time limit on when the mentorship ends?
- How often should you meet, and why?
- What resources can the mentor provide for the mentee to do some work on their own?
- What metrics are being used to measure success?
- How hands-on should the mentor be?
You should come to these answers as a duo and it’s OK if it takes a little bit to figure it out. The time you put in at the beginning will pay off in the long term.
Some expectations are pretty straightforward, Perry says: professionalism, punctuality, clear communication, and organization. However, some expectations will be shaped by the mentee.
“A mentee should be able to tell me as the mentor exactly what they’d like me to do for them, whether it ‘s to provide information, make an introduction, write a recommendation or provide advice,” says Perry. “The relationship is theirs to shape and build and that starts with a clear, direct ask of some sort.”
When Washington works with mentees, her first session focuses on goal setting, setting up a meeting cadence, and discussing ground rules.
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