Someone asks you to be their mentor. You’re not sure you can commit. It’s a lot of time, and you’re already overloaded. Plus you’ve mentored in several formal mentoring programs and it felt forced and awkward.
Formal programs can stifle a good relationship. Even organic relationships can lose steam with too much structure. Worse, many connections never start for fear of commitment.
“In learning you will teach, and in teaching you will learn.” -Phil Collins
Instead of saying, “yes! I’ll be your mentor,” or “I’m sorry, I can’t at this time,” how about a simple, “I’d be happy to talk with you.” Keep it natural. Find time to connect. Figure out why they thought of you. Help where you can. Connect them to others who can support. If it makes sense to set a follow-up, do that. Don’t get stuck mentoring past helpfulness. Growing leaders can benefit from a series of mentoring moments with a broad spectrum of leaders. You will learn from these moments too.
Tips for a Making Great Mentoring Moments
- Ask lots of questions
- Work on a specific skill
- Pull out the answers
- Provide information and encouragement
- Help them ask “why?”
- Dust them off when they fail
- Encourage self-reflection
- Serve as sounding board
- Remove obstacles
- Uncover resources
- Create additional connections
10 Mentoring Moment Sentence Starters
- Have you thought about.
- What do you think would happen if.
- Why do you think that happened?
- Who should you involve?
- When is the best time to do this?
- Why are you pursuing that approach?
- Which are the most important goals?
- What will happen next?
- Why does that make you so angry?
- Who can help?
Thanks for the list of question starters. That’s my biggest mistake when I’m asked to mentor someone….I talk to much and guide to little. I need to do a better job of leading them into answers rather then just quoting from my play book of leadership lessons.
This list will really be helpful.
Eric, thanks. I feel that same temptation.
I’ve been a mentor at my alma mater for about five years. I’ve enjoyed the experience.
Though I understand from other mentors that the program hasn’t been as successful as they’d hope.
I think part of the issue is students are use to communicating via email and smartphones vs. one on one conversation.
We’ve got to get back to basics in regards to verbal communication.
Steve, agreed. I can’t imagine texting through an important discussion… although my son and his friends sure give that a try. Mentors and mentees should talk to one another.
Take it away and the moment is lost.
I have a big conflict with mentoring…my mentor is a God-send. But he asks so many questions of me and lets me talk so much to learn more about me, that I find it hard to ask him anything. I have to be intentional about it but sometimes feel like I get us off track with my questions. Any tips on that?
Matt, glad to hear you have an amazing mentor. Sounds like he would be the kind of guy that you took talk to about this dynamic. What a great subject your next meeting. When a relationship is on the cusp of amazing, I always believe in talking about the dynamic.
Thanks. That is what I needed to hear!
Being available for a good conversation is a great alternative to formal mentoring. Some advice for those thinking about asking someone to be their mentor: offer to help them out instead. I had someone do this today to build some skills they know they will need for their next career move. There’s no way I’m saying no to someone offering to help me out who is already bought in!
Eric, that is beautiful advice! I love it when people approach me that way. We both learn so much, get good work done, and get to know one another.
I like the way you started out by saying that there is a possibility that formal mentoring relationships can actually stifle the growth of the individuals involved. But the tips and prompts you provided show how to get the relationship unstuck, moving again, or energized. It’s often a good idea that near the end of every mentoring session, the mentor (at the beginning) initiate a discussion about what was gained that was valuable in the session and how to make that happen again or more.
I typically start that part of the mentoring conversation by summarizing what did go on in the session up to that point and ask my mentoring partner: “Is that your understanding of what we’ve accomplished so far?” Depending on the response, then going on to ask “What was most worthwhile to you about we’ve done so far?” What made that worthwhile? What ideas do you have to keep that going for next time?
Ray, thanks so much for joining the conversation. I love your ideas for ending (or starting) each session. Thanks for the great adds. I hope you will share insights in future conversations.