As I said in my blog post, Top Ten Questions to Answer in Mentor Training, the number one question the mentors I train want the answer to is, “What does good mentoring look like? How will I know if I’m doing a good job?”
There are plenty of articles on the Internet that will try to answer that question.
But I think it’s dangerous to give a generic answer.
Mentoring is about people and relationships. And that means every case is different. Just as every person is likely to have a different view of what a good marriage looks like, every mentor and mentee are likely to have a different view of what a good mentoring relationship looks like.
“What does good mentoring look like for me?”
I think there are two ways to think about this from an individual perspective – one is to look forward and one is to look back.
Developing a picture of future success can be a great way of thinking about what good looks like for you. Suppose the mentoring relationship goes perfectly, how would you know? What would be different – for you, for the mentee, for the organisation? What would you be saying about how the mentoring had gone? What would your mentee be saying?
Reflecting on your own experience is another helpful way of defining what good mentoring looks like for you. Think about the people who have been mentors to you (even if you didn’t realise it at the time). What did they do or not do that made your relationship valuable? What could they have done that would have made the relationship even more effective?
What Good Mentoring Looks Like to Me
As I outlined in Who is Your Mentor, I’ve had a few mentors during the past 25 years. Reflecting on those relationships, the six characteristics they all shared were:
1. They were credible
All my mentors were people who I judged as successful in the areas I wanted help with. And they hadn’t necessarily had it easy, so they could share with me how they had dealt with the obstacles and challenges they’d faced.
2. They made time for me
All of my mentors gave me their time when I asked for it. And I tried to make it as easy as possible for them. A couple of mentors carved out time in their busy schedules to meet in the office. But with others, we took opportunities as they arose. One of my mentors was someone I travelled with often. We would chat over dinner at the hotel. Another was someone who got the same train as me. We would chat on our walk from the station to the office.
3. They listened
My mentors let me drive the conversation. They asked open questions which helped me think through situations and they showed genuine interest by listening to my thoughts, ideas and concerns. On many occasions, I developed new insights about a situation simply by talking it through.
4. They helped me realise what I was good at
In my younger days, I was an insecure perfectionist (maybe I still am). My mentors were great at reminding me of my skills and achievements. They held up a mirror to help me reflect on what I was good at as well as where I could improve.
5. They didn’t take on responsibility for my development
On more than one occasion I hoped my mentor would take the problem away from me – talk to my boss, engineer a new role or have a word with the promotion panel. But even though my mentors were in senior, influential positions, they didn’t do the work for me. They simply helped me work out what I needed to do to help myself.
6. They shared their ideas and experience but didn’t tell me what to do
I know I asked, “What do you think I should do?” But all of my mentors resisted answering that directly. Instead, they helped me identify alternatives and think through the outcomes of various actions so I came to my own conclusions and made my own decisions. And that gave me the confidence to take risks.
Recommended actions to work out what good mentoring looks like for you
- Look forward and think about what success looks like for you as a mentor.
- Look backwards and reflect on what you valued about your mentors.
And please share with me what you come up with. I’d love to know how your views of good mentoring compare with my own. Just comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org