mentoring, being a mentor at work, what does it mean to be a mentor, what does it mean to be a mentor at work, what is a mentor, what makes a good mentor

What is a mentor supposed to do?

Mentoring is one of the most essential elements to creating a culture of success in your workplace. Mentoring programs reduce turnover, increase employee morale, and instill a spirit of cooperation and teamwork in every facet of your company.

So, why aren’t more companies taking advantage of this strategy? Many don’t really have a complete understanding of exactly what it means to be a mentor and how to get the cycle started.

In this article, we’ll learn how to identify mentors and how to pair them with mentees. It doesn’t have to be complicated, but the process works best when you follow some key best practices.

What is a mentor?

A mentor is a person with wisdom and experience in a particular area who is willing to impart their knowledge on a less experienced person. Mentoring doesn’t have to be simply in the workplace. We can identify organic examples of mentoring throughout society. Sometimes it just happens.

Think of a grade school. A new student who has moved from another city has joined the grade. A kindhearted student takes them under their wing to help them adapt to their new surroundings. Some of the knowledge is simple logistics like where to find the restrooms, where to check out playground equipment and the best food in the lunchroom. Some of the knowledge might involve identifying other potential friends and sadly, bullies to avoid. They’d probably give tips on how to stay on a teacher’s good side and how to get a good grade.

This seems to be an innate part of the human experience. When we gain knowledge, we want to share it with others. We know that it will probably pay dividends down the road in friendship and partnership. Those partnerships in turn make us stronger in our smaller social circles and better able to take on the challenges of life.

In the workplace, it’s not really that much different. It absolutely can and does happen organically. But instead of waiting for it to happen, a best practice is to begin by identifying mentors and mentees and giving them a prescribed path to follow.

Identifying Mentors In the Workplace

The simple fact is that not everyone is cut out to be a mentor. Now, that doesn’t mean that you should overlook anyone right away. It’s important to look a little deeper. Some people may have a gruff or grumpy personality. They may benefit immeasurably by being asked to be a mentor. Helping them understand their immense value to the organization can help break through that tough exterior!

Still, it’s important to have buy-in from your mentors. If they absolutely don’t want to do it, it might not work out. Some companies may have a policy that everyone needs to be a mentor at some point periodically. That’s fine, but you’ll definitely want to account for this in your hiring! The last thing you want to do is force someone to be a mentor, which will trickle down to an awful experience for your mentee. That’s not a great way to get started as a new member of your organization.

What makes a good mentor?

The reality is that mentors in the workplace do more than just showing employees where to find coffee, the restroom or what items to avoid in the deli. Mentorship is more about building a culture of success and teamwork.

A good mentor has to be a good listener. A mentor isn’t a teacher. A teacher gives instructions while a student simply listens. A mentor listens to a mentee while they share their questions, goals, fears and challenges, then responds accordingly.

Mentors need to be enthusiastic, but also realistic and honest. They shouldn’t just share corporate mantras and expect that to be enough. We all know that workplaces are full of different, and often strong personalities. A mentor will be upfront about these challenges and offer advice on how to approach these relationships.

For example: a mentor spends time with their mentee and discovers that they are hard working and competent, but very quiet and a bit timid. The mentor explains that another team member they may be working with is the opposite: loud with a strong personality. However, they are able to reassure them that while they may be loud, they are great team players and offer good input. This way, the newer employee can be prepared for future interactions with this louder employee.

Mentors need to encourage mentees to accept and embrace challenges. They can do this by sharing their own experiences. Preparation is key, as is a sense that all challenges open up opportunities.

Imagine that in the past, a mentor had a negative experience. They submitted a report, but the data was in an unacceptable format. They were reprimanded and felt very negative about the bad day they had. Now is a great time for some introspection on the part of the mentor before passing the experience on to the mentee!

Mentors need to carefully frame these experiences and then pass them on. So, in this example, the mentor thought about why formatting the data in a uniform way was important, and how this mistake caused frustration in others. They explained how while they had a bad day, they learned from it. The next day they apologized for the error, and were forgiven by their coworkers.

Of course, building this culture of accountibility but also forgiveness and humanity is essential! If it’s not, you need to get to work on that right away. Perhaps, building a mentorship program will be your first step.

Mentoring is key to a culture of growth and success

If you don’t already have a mentorship program, you might consider starting small. Pick three mentors, and three newer employees as their mentees. Set a time for the pilot program of maybe 10 sessions or 3 months. Give them a roadmap to follow and ask them to independently journal their experiences.

Then, interview everyone independently and as a group to discuss the successes and failures. From there, you’ll be able to grow the program until you make it an integral part of your cycle of success.

Mentoring is a vital practice to help make new hires into valuable members of your team. It’s a chance for everyone to engage in introspection and growth as you work towards a common goal.

Living Pono is dedicated to communicating business management concepts with Hawaiian values. Founded by Kevin May,  an established and successful leader and mentor, Living Pono is your destination to learn about how to live your life righteously and how that can have positive effects in your career. If you have any questions, please leave a comment below or contact us here. Also, join our mailing list below, so you can be alerted when a new article is released.

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