By Vik Patel
Businesses have always relied on mentoring to bring new people into the fold and transmit culture, expertise, and values from experienced managers to rising talent. It’s only relatively recently, though, that we’ve started consciously thinking about the mentor/mentee relationship in more formal terms. So, how can you get the most benefit out of a mentorship program in your company?
First, the mentor/mentee relationship is a close one, and like all relationships, not every manager is suited to mentor a particular mentee. Within organizational hierarchies, there can be conflicts of interest between current managers and their most able employees. When designing your mentor programs and partnering mentors and mentees, it’s often useful to avoid pairing an employee with a direct superior. In addition, if a prospective mentor is reluctant to be a mentor, it’s best not to force the issue.
The best mentors understand that by being a mentor, they will be forced to articulate their experience and expertise in a way that the mentee understands. That can be a huge benefit to the mentor, both in terms of their ability to communicate and their ability to think about and optimize the processes that have made them successful in the first place.
Put Effort into Developing the Relationship
The mentoring relationship is closer than the typical management relationship. And like all close relationships, it requires careful cultivation of trust and understanding. Make an effort to be available to the mentee, but put clear boundaries around that availability. Set aside an hour or so each week for direct contact, and encourage the mentee to come to the meeting with a prepared set of questions, queries, and thoughts.
The meeting should not be considered strictly a “business only” time. Every part of a mentee’s life impacts their work and advancement, and I’m quite prepared to discuss life issues in a nonjudgmental way.
Clearly Express What You Expect of the Mentee
The best mentorships are those where both parties clearly understand what to expect from each other. Mentoring requires the active participation of both parties. It’s easy to tell if a mentee has thought through a specific problem and is asking for guidance to supplement their own ideas, or if they just expect me to solve their problems for them. Encouraging active mental participation is key.
Cultivate Trust with Empathy
In many companies, there’s a culture of relentless positivity and optimism, especially towards the business itself. Employees are expected to know where they are going and be happy about it. In reality, most people have doubts about their chosen course and the possibilities offered.
Understanding that doubt, frustration, and hesitation are natural—and exercising a little empathy—are key to developing a trusting relationship where the mentor can identify the best course for the mentee and help put them on it. It’s important for mentors to listen and to put time into thinking through any issues the mentee has in their wider context.
Exercising empathy to develop a real understanding of the issue increases the likelihood of a positive career outcome for the mentee, and a better result for the business as a whole.
Mentoring is a significant responsibility for managers and it’s one that can take them out of their comfort zone. But it can be hugely valuable for everyone involved.
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Vik Patel is a tech entrepreneur and the CEO of Detroit-based Future Hosting.
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