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  • Karen Boylston recommends

ARTICLE: Becoming a Great Mentor

Updated: May 1, 2020

A recent article in the APA Monitor by Chris Palmer reminds us that the character Mentor in Homer's "Odyssey" serves as the trusted older counselor to Odysseus's son, Telemachus. "Mentor" has since come to mean someone who gives guidance, shares knowledge and imparts wisdom. But great mentors actually do much more, from serving as role models to helping incubate research projects to bringing protégés into a network of colleagues.

Barriers to good mentoring include the fact that mentoring is not necessarily a naturally occurring skill, it takes a lot of time and energy, and it often doesn’t “count” for much compared with other extra curricular accomplishments for leaders. While a few rare institutions provide training in mentorship, most would-be mentors are on their own.

Seasoned mentors offer the following advice on how to succeed at becoming a great mentor:

  • Be clear about the relationship—from the start, both parties should spell out their goals, roles and responsibilities, and how the relationship will work. If you don’t have time to be a mentor or the fit doesn’t feel right, be up-front about it.

  • Take the time—although it's not always easy, it’s an essential part of good mentorship because it signals that you value the relationship. Either establish regular check-in times for your mentee or make yourself available on an as-needed basis. If you haven’t heard from your mentee in a while, don’t wait—just reach out.

  • Champion their dreams—help a mentee realize his or her goals. Don't fall into the trap of trying to make the mentee into a clone of yourself. Give them the freedom to bring their own ideas to life.

  • Learn to listen—don’t project what you think they should be asking, especially if you’ve been in the field for years. Ask good questions that stimulate their thinking and problem-solving skills to help guide them toward self-sufficiency.

  • Model key behaviors—once you understand their career goals, show them what it takes to reach those goals, perhaps by letting them observe you at work in areas they are learning.

  • Offer support and encouragement—accentuate your mentee’s development and achievements. Make sure you're in their corner during crisis times and be prepared to tolerate tears.

  • Challenge your mentee—but resist the urge to spoon-feed. Allow them to figure out what they need to know. Push them to stretch themselves—if they're terrified of public speaking, convince them to present at a meeting.

  • Give public praise—sponsorship is crucial to a mentee's success. After carefully evaluating their work, and if praiseworthy, are you telling others how great they are? Are you introducing them to key people and networking them in?

  • Stay humble—great mentors are willing to say, “I don’t know,” or talk about their own failures. This can be empowering for mentees who are perfectionists.

  • Let the relationship grow—allow the relationship to evolve naturally. Treating mentees like colleagues makes a big difference in their self-perception. It’s common for the best relationships to flower into true collegiality.

  • Enjoy the benefits—mentoring can be extremely rewarding and result in reciprocity—appreciative mentees often pay back the efforts you’ve made on their behalf by broadening your network, bringing you in on new collaborations, or letting you know about job opportunities.

Read the full article here.

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